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820.5 
P49 


LIBRARY  OF 
WELLESLEY  COLLEGE 


BEQUEST  OF 

LOUISE  PROUTY  '02 


Photography 
within  the 
Humanities 


John  Morris 


Paul  Taylor 


Gjon  Mili 


Robert  Frank 


Frederick  Wiseman 


John  Szarkowski 


W.  Eugene  Smith 


Susan  Sontag 


Irving  Penn 


Robert  Coles 


Photography 
within  the 
Humanities 

Edited  by 

Eugenia  Parry  Janis 

and 

Wendy  MacNeil 

The  Art  Department 
Jewett  Arts  Center 
Wellesley  College 
Wellesley,  Massachusetts 


Published  by 

Addison  House  Publishers 

Danbury,  New  Hampshire 

1977 


During  the  month  of  April  1975,  the  following  people  spent  a  day  at 
Wellesley  College: 

April    7    John  Morris,  former  picture  editor,  N.Y.T.  Pictures  New 
York  Times,  News  Service 

April    9    Paul  Schuster  Taylor,  economist,  co-author  with 
Dorothea  Lange  of  An  American  Exodus 

April  11     Gjon  Mili,  Life  magazine  photographer 

April  14     Robert  Frank,  photographer,  filmmaker 

April  15    Frederick  Wiseman,  documentary  filmmaker 

April  16    John  Szarkowski,  director,  Department  of  Photography, 
Museum  of  Modern  Art,  New  York 

April  18    W.  Eugene  Smith,  photo-essayist 

April  21     Susan  Sontag,  critic,  filmmaker 

April  23     Irving  Penn,  fashion/portrait  photographer 

April  25    Robert  Coles,  author  and  research  psychiatrist,  Harvard 
University 


Their  visits  constituted  a  series  of  ten  symposia  called  Photography 
within  the  Humanities  which  inquired  into  the  functions  of  photog- 
raphy. 


- 


Copyright  @  1977  by  Wellesley  College.  Library  of  Congress  Catalogue  Card  No. 
76-051600.  ISBN-o-89169-013-1.  Type  set  by  Dumar  Typesetting,  Dayton,  Ohio. 
Printed  by  Foremost  Lithographers,  Providence,  R.I.  Designed  by  Carl  F.  Zahn. 
All  rights  reserved.  No  part  of  this  book  may  be  reproduced  in  any  form  or  by  any 
electronic  or  mechanical  means  including  information  storage  and  retrieval 
systems  without  permission  in  writing  from  the  copyright  holder,  except  by  a 
reviewer  who  may  quote  brief  paragraphs  in  a  review. 


To  the  memory  of  Walker  Evans 
November  3, 1903-April  10, 1975 


Acknowledgments  The  symposia  originated  in  a  college  art  department  which  has 

wholeheartedly  supported  the  formal  study  of  the  history  of  photog- 
raphy since  1969  and  the  teaching  of  photographic  practice  since 
1973.  We  wish  to  thank  all  our  colleagues  in  the  art  department  at 
Wellesley  for  their  interest  and  encouragement.  Peter  Fergusson 
was  a  constant  advisor.  Ann  Gabhart  installed  the  exhibition  of  100 
photographs  chosen  by  the  participants.  The  task  of  locating  and 
assembling  these  images  was  greatly  eased  by  the  efforts  of  Richard 
Avedon,  Duane  Michals,  Yoichi  Okamoto,  Alex  Harris,  Gjon  Mili, 
Jennifer  Ettling  of  Zipporah  Films,  Patricia  McCabe,  Leslie  Teicholz, 
John  J.  Fletcher  of  Compix,  U.P.I.  News  Pictures,  Robert  Sobieszek, 
International  Museum  of  Photography,  Rochester,  John  Szarkowski, 
Patricia  M.  Walker,  Department  of  Photography  of  the  Museum  of 
Modern  Art,  Therese  Heyman,  Curator  of  Photographs,  Oakland 
Museum,  Barbara  Norfleet,  Carpenter  Center  for  the  Visual  Arts, 
Davis  Pratt,  Curator  of  Photography,  Fogg  Art  Museum,  Harvard 
University,  Marge  Neikrug,  Neikrug  Galleries,  Inc.,  Harry  Lunn  and 
Maurizia  Grosman,  Lunn  Gallery-Graphics  International  Ltd.,  and 
the  Witkin  Gallery. 

Maria  Morris,  Hannah  B.  Bruce,  Time-Life  Picture  Agency,  Paul 
Clifford,  Wide  World  Photos,  Inc.,  Frank  Wolfe,  Lyndon  Baines  John- 
son Library  and  Magnum  Photos,  Inc.  helped  to  make  certain  addi- 
tional pictures  available  for  the  source  book. 

For  help  in  the  planning  stages  we  would  like  to  thank  Kenworth 
Moffett.  For  invaluable  assistance  during  the  symposia  we  would 
also  like  to  thank  Carla  Mathes  Woodward,  Peteris  Bite,  Marjorie  A. 
Dings,  Elizabeth  P.  Richardson,  Ruth  B.  Wilson,  Muriel  Crampton, 
William  McKenzie  Woodward,  Rosalyn  Gerstein  and  Carl  Sesto. 
Catharine  H.  Allen  coordinated  the  whole  series.  Without  her  expert 
organizing  skills,  it  is  certain  that  the  events  would  never  have  tran- 
spired so  smoothly. 

With  Wellesley  students  it  is  possible  to  accomplish  practically 
anything:  they  participated  in  all  phases  of  the  events,  produced  the 
tapes  and  transcribed  them.  Thanks  are  due  Sasha  Norkin,  Jessine 
Monaghan,  Liz  de  Tuerk,  Rebecca  Dragiff ,  Deborah  Keith,  Linda 
Mahoney,  and  especially  Lesley  Baier  and  Lillian  Hsu  who  gave 
generous  and  untiring  assistance  in  the  final  stages  of  the  book's 
production. 

Finally,  we  owe  our  greatest  debt  to  the  speakers  and  confess  sel- 
fishly that  the  whole  undertaking  was  the  best  way  we  could  think  of 
to  know  them  better. 

EPJandWMAcN 


Resources  for  the  symposia  in  1975,  and  for  the  production  of  the 
source  book  in  1976  were  awarded  in  two  separate  grants  by  the 
Northeastern  Pooled  Common  Fund,  established  by  Mr.  and  Mrs. 
George  de  Menil  (Lois  Pattison,  Wellesley  College  Class  of  1960).  We 
gratefully  acknowledge  the  Fund's  generous  support  and  the  sym- 
pathetic interest  of  its  founders  at  every  stage  of  the  project. 


6  Acknowledgments 


Introduction  We  are  all  possessors  of  a  highly  sophisticated  form  of  visual  literacy, 

largely  influenced  by  photographs  and  more  recently  by  television. 
Strangely  enough,  an  outstanding  characteristic  of  this  visual  lit- 
eracy is  our  lack  of  consciousness  about  how  it  works.  We  really  have 
not  begun  to  consider  how,  why  or  to  what  extent  photographs  move 
us,  teach  us  or  force  us  to  make  choices  and  form  judgments.  Speci- 
fically, we  do  not  yet  fully  understand  how  the  particular  physical 
nature  of  its  picture  making  system  affects  the  visual  appearance  of 
a  photograph  and  thereby  alters  the  information  it  contains. 

Photographs  offer  a  version  of  reality  as  subject  to  critical  inter- 
pretation as  that  offered  by  any  other  medium.  Contrary  to  the  nine- 
teenth century  conviction,  photographs  are  not  equal  to  the  truth; 
they  bear  only  partial  truths.  Photographs  "masquerade  as  'it-ness,'  " 
to  quote  an  apt  formulation.  They  carry  information  clothed  in  a  cur- 
ious visual  organization.  This  visual  organization  or  syntax  affects 
our  view  of  the  world  enormously.  For  as  members  of  a  photographic 
community,  we  are  receiving  thousands  of  photographic  signals 
daily.  Also,  much  of  what  we  believe  to  be  true  about  the  past  one 
hundred  and  thirty-seven  years  has  been  inculcated  through 
photographs. 

Until  recently,  many  focused  inquiries  about  photography  have 
been  devoted  to  its  relation  to  the  arts.  Because  photographs  are  pic- 
tures with  a  special  formal  organization,  it  has  been  natural  to  link 
their  production  to  art  making.  A  favorite  issue,  which  still  has  not 
died,  for  example,  is  whether  photography  can  be  an  art  at  all.  By 
now  general  consensus  says  that  photography  seems  to  be  capable 
of  artistic  expression  when  it  is  practiced  by  artists.  Another  view 
holds  that  the  question  is  beside  the  point:  the  history  of  photography 
and  the  accumulation  of  photographic  images  since  1839  has  dem- 
onstrated that  photography  involved  itself  in  much  more  than  aes- 
thetic claims.  It  took  root  in  every  aspect  of  life.  To  begin  to  under- 
stand the  medium  fully  we  must  examine  its  role  systematically  and 
include  it  within  the  study  of  the  humanities. 

This  was  the  basic  idea  behind  the  creation  of  the  series  of  sym- 
posia called  Photography  within  the  Humanities  held  at  Wellesley 
College  in  the  Spring  of  1975.  While  there  have  been  countless  con- 
ferences on  photography  which  re-examined  aesthetic  and  technical 
questions,  never  before  had  there  been  an  attempt  to  explore  photog- 
raphy's function  or  its  far-reaching  effects  on  our  experience — on 
the  way  we  gather  information  and  the  quality  of  that  information. 
Our  primary  aim  in  these  symposia  was  to  expand  our  understand- 
ing of  photography  beyond  the  realm  of  the  art  museum  by  asking 
questions  about  the  medium  which  would  promote  a  recognition  of 
its  connection  to  other  related  fields,  and  having  done  this,  would 
articulate  that  connection. 

The  symposia's  activities  centered  around  ten  individuals  who 
regard  photography  as  a  significant  part  of  their  work  or  for  whom 
photography  is  important  enough  to  engage  their  critical  attention. 
Our  choice  of  speakers  was  based  on  their  skill  at  making,  using  or 
thinking  about  photographic  pictures  and  their  ability  to  speak 
about  it  to  others.  The  main  objective  was  to  bring  about  a  series  of 
dialogues  about  photography  as  a  documentary  tool  by  having  ac- 
cess to  people  whose  experiences  had  led  them  to  opinions  about  the 
particular  kind  of  success  or  failure  photography  has  had  in  its  many 
applications. 

7  Introduction 


Between  April  7  and  April  25  of  1975,  each  of  the  ten  participants 
came  to  Wellesley  College  and  spent  the  day.  They  met  with  stu- 
dents in  informal  seminars  during  the  morning  and  afternoon  and 
gave  a  public  lecture  in  the  evening.  Each  speaker  was  asked  for  a 
list  of  ten  photographs  which  would  best  represent  his  or  her  point 
of  view.  The  100  photographs,  assembled  in  a  major  exhibition  in  the 
main  gallery  of  the  Jewett  Arts  Center,  became  a  core  of  images 
around  which  discussions  might  take  place.  Moreover,  they  provided 
the  speakers  with  their  only  access  to  the  views  of  the  others  who  had 
been  invited. 

It  seemed  important  to  have  the  participants  appear  one  at  a  time. 
Although  shop  talk  between  professionals  on  a  panel  is  entertaining 
and  even  instructive,  we  were  not  interested  in  collisions  between 
celebrities  on  a  stage.  Instead  we  calculated  another  kind  of  event, 
of  one  experienced  and  opinionated  guest  appearing  after  another, 
each  of  whom  would  bring  a  different  attitude  toward  his  or  her 
work.  This  left  the  burden  of  the  cross-fertilization  of  ideas  on  the 
students,  who,  fresh  from  the  visit  of  one  speaker,  were  soon  as- 
saulted by  the  next.  Being  in  possession  of  the  whole  picture  (none 
of  the  speakers  stayed  to  hear  the  others)  gave  the  students  a  sense 
of  equal  footing  with  speakers  who  might  have  seemed  overwhelm- 
ing. We  could  not  anticipate  the  extent  to  which  the  ten  participants 
would  refer  to  one  another.  The  same  story  related  by  an  editor  and 
later  by  an  artist  was,  in  the  opinion  of  the  students,  embarrassing 
but  illuminating. 

Most  of  the  participants  simply  spoke  about  what  they  do  when 
they  work  and  related  their  thoughts  about  their  work.  On  the  whole, 
this  occurred  not  in  long,  reasoned  expositions  but  as  little  talks 
about  fortuitous  encounters;  what  was  said,  what  was  once  thought, 
what  changed.  These  accounts,  with  no  overriding  design  except 
that  they  make  up  the  life  of  a  professional,  were  undeniably  the 
most  memorable  and  possibly  the  most  valuable  parts  of  the  meet- 
ings. A  striking  number  of  new  details  about  photographic  experi- 
ences emerged  which  altered  profoundly  the  standard  information 
about  many  well-known  photographs  and  photographic  careers. 
Similarly,  as  with  all  direct  confrontations  with  people  known 
only  from  afar  by  reputation,  many  popular  notions  about  them 
were  corrected.  In  the  course  of  a  day,  it  was  possible  to  concentrate 
on  one  life  and  one  career,  to  understand  a  reputation  by  seeing  how 
it  had  developed  depending  on  circumstances  and  personal  choices. 
Well-respected  models  of  photographic  achievement  were  seen  in  an 
entirely  new  light.  For  the  first  time,  it  seemed  possible  to  understand 
what  Dorothea  Lange's  and  Paul  Taylor's  An  American  Exodus, 
produced  forty  years  ago,  meant  then,  and  what  it  still  might  mean 
today  in  the  context  of  the  estimated  millions  of  photographs  docu- 
menting America  made  since.  In  the  same  way,  W.  Eugene  Smith's 
classic  Life  magazine  stories  were  reviewed  in  relation  to  the  recently 
published  Minamata.  It  became  clear  that  Smith's  career  had  a  com- 
pletely comprehensible  evolution. 

Throughout  the  sessions,  certain  names  seemed  to  surface  more 
than  others.  Dorothea  Lange,  Walker  Evans  and  Diane  Arbus  were 
discussed  by  nearly  every  speaker.  Every  speaker  had  a  different 
approach  to  the  issue  of  meaning  in  a  photograph.  The  achievements 
of  some  photographers  such  as  Walker  Evans,  Smith  or  Lange  were 


8  Introduction 


held  up  as  rebuttals  to  Son  tag's  moral  criticism  against  photographic 
practice  in  America  as  a  process  of  appropriating  reality  (picture 
taking) ,  rather  than  one  of  creatively  generating  new  realities  with 
a  camera  (picture  making). 

The  ordering  of  the  speakers  was  based  on  preconceived  ideas  of 
what  might  transpire.  We  hoped  Robert  Coles  would  apply  the  ad- 
mirable plain-spoken  perception  of  social  problems,  so  lucidly  ex- 
pressed in  his  books,  to  the  questions  which  had  accumulated  dur- 
ing the  symposia.  We  hoped  that  as  the  last  speaker,  he  would,  in 
essence,  pick  up  the  pieces.  We  were  not  prepared  for  his  refusal  to 
be  locked  into  the  role  we  had  expected  him  to  play. 

Few  of  the  speakers,  in  fact,  addressed  themselves  directly  to  the 
theme  of  the  symposia.  Each  appeared  as  a  self-defined  primary  in- 
former, already  involved  with  the  problem  of  photography's  role  as 
part  of  his  or  her  life's  work.  Ultimately,  in  spite  of  our  great  am- 
bition that  the  symposia  provide  the  answers  to  the  most  penetrating 
questions  which  might  be  asked  about  the  medium,  it  was  discov- 
ered that  we  are  still  only  at  the  early  stages  of  our  inquiry,  the  as- 
sembling of  the  primary  data. 

Nearly  everything  which  was  said  was  taped  in  order  to  secure  a 
record  of  the  events.  The  tapes  were  transcribed  fully  and  the  ample 
manuscript  is  available  for  consultation  in  the  Art  Library  of  Jewett. 
It  was  our  intention  to  edit  the  transcript  and  publish  it  as  a  source 
book  for  others  to  refer  to  in  the  future. 

Editing  the  Transcript 

The  animated  spirit  of  the  exchange  between  the  participants  and 
their  audiences  rests  in  the  spontaneous  rhythm  and  intonation  of 
speech.  Translating  these  encounters  into  print  (automatically  ac- 
complished by  typing  the  contents  of  the  tapes)  risks  the  loss  of  this 
spirit.  The  transcript  needs  no  editing  for  the  force  of  its  energy  to  be 
appreciated.  What  it  lacks  is  coherence.  Valuable  ideas  are  buried 
in  repetitions,  idiosyncracies  of  expression,  interruptions,  losses  of 
trains  of  thought  and  a  thousand  other  obstacles  that  occur  when 
people,  newly  introduced,  try  to  communicate  about  matters  of  im- 
portance. We  are  culturally  conditioned  to  adjust  to  these  difficulties. 
When  turned  into  print  on  a  page,  the  spoken  words  acquire  the  sus- 
picious status  of  pseudo-literature. 

As  soon  as  we  had  the  transcript  in  our  hands,  we  realized  why 
other  taped  conferences  and  symposia  had  not  been  turned  so  readily 
into  edited  source  books.  The  events  which  in  reality  had  proceeded 
with  a  certain  inner  logic  and  momentum  looked  chaotic.  We  were 
faced  with  the  task  of  rediscovering  and  reconstructing  what  we 
knew  had  been  valuable. 

In  the  Spring  of  1976,  we  led  a  seminar  of  thirteen  students  to  edit 
the  transcript.  The  students  were:  Cathy  S.  Neuren  (John  Morris) , 
Adrienne Schach Mitchell  (Paul Taylor), Katherine  Kent  (GjonMili), 
Judith  Hirschkowitz  (Robert  Frank) ,  Michele  Collias  and  Margue- 
rite Verani  (Frederick  Wiseman) ,  Nancy  Osher  and  Lesley  Baier 
(John  Szarkowski) ,  Marianne  Duffy  (W.  Eugene  Smith) ,  Barbara 
Clark  and  Anne  Fougeron  (Susan  Sontag) ,  Kelley  Nilson  (Irving 
Penn)  and  Susan  Blumberg  and  Victoria  Furber  (Robert  Coles) . 


9  Introduction 


The  editing  sessions  raised  fundamental  questions  about  the  re- 
lationship between  real  events  and  their  translation  into  another  me- 
dium—a basic  problem  in  the  study  of  photography  itself.  The  semi- 
nar turned  out  to  be  about  language  and  interpretation.  How  much  of 
the  sense  of  the  original  is  lost  if  the  order  of  a  spoken  text  is  altered? 
Often  with  a  new  ordering,  it  was  discovered  that  the  ideas  flowed 
better  and  had  greater  dramatic  force.  The  result,  though  more  co- 
herent and  in  a  sense  more  accurately  representing  the  speaker, 
often  strayed  from  the  original  structure  of  the  words  on  tape.  Moral 
problems  arose  concerning  authenticity  and  the  use  of  Active  modes 
to  reconstruct  the  truth. 

There  was  the  added  danger  of  trying  to  make  over  the  speakers, 
to  have  them  correspond  to  an  ideal  of  what  editors,  photo-journal- 
ists or  critics  should  say,  by  leaving  out  sentences  or  expressions 
which  did  not  fit  the  preconceived  mold.  Ultimately  the  authority  to 
accept  or  reject  a  final  editing  was  the  speaker's;  every  published  ex- 
tract appears  in  this  source  book  with  the  speaker's  approval. 

The  illustrations  deserve  some  mention.  Many  have  been  re- 
produced frequently  and  are  generally  well-known  in  America.  They 
were  recalled  repeatedly  during  the  symposia.  It  was  discovered 
that  certain  photographs  are  regarded  as  crucial  in  forming  a 
pictorial  tradition  in  contemporary  American  photography.  The  con- 
tinual citation  of  these  well-known  images  led  to  a  re-examination 
of  their  significance.  It  is  in  this  spirit  that  we  continue  to  reproduce 
them.  This  is  not  primarily  a  picture  book  but  a  book  of  texts  whose 
contents  are  the  principal  attraction.  For  this  reason  all  the  images 
reproduced  follow  the  demands  of  the  texts  and  amplify  them.  Con- 
sidering that  hundreds  of  camera-carrying  photographers  attended 
the  events,  it  was  striking  how  few  pictures  were  made.  Even  after 
strenuous  efforts  to  secure  photographs  of  the  symposia,  very  few 
have  surfaced.  We  thank  Larry  Edwards,  Donald  Dietz,  Stephen 
Frank  and  Linda  Mahoney  for  allowing  us  to  use  their  pictures. 

In  our  opinion,  the  value  of  the  events  which  took  place  at  Welles- 
ley  lies  in  the  expansion  of  what  is  considered  to  be  general  photo- 
graphic knowledge.  For  example,  the  familiar  American  icon,  Mi- 
grant Mother  by  Dorothea  Lange,  was  shown  to  have  been  altered  to 
suit  widely  differing  purposes:  commemorating  the  Spanish  ter- 
ror of  1938;  illustrating  the  cover  of  a  South  American  magazine, 
Bohemia  Venezolana,  and  providing  the  design  for  a  drawing  in  a 
Black  Panthers  newspaper.  Classic  Walker  Evans  photographs 
compared  to  those  by  Robert  Frank  call  attention  to  the  lineage  in 
American  documentary  photography  which  they  share.  Thus, 
rather  than  introducing  previously  undiscovered  images,  the 
dialogues  reaffirmed  the  far-reaching  significance  of  what  is  already 
acknowledged  as  important.  It  is  in  this  sense  that  the  content  of  the 
discussions  during  the  symposia  may  be  characterized  as  academic. 

For  readers  who  still  vividly  remember  the  real  events  them- 
selves, we  hope  that  these  edited  extracts  accurately  preserve  the 
individuality  of  each  speaker  and  the  vitality  of  the  original  context. 
The  book  offered  here,  however,  has  its  own  inner  logic  and  life.  Its 
vitality  bears  little  resemblance  to  the  flavor  and  flow  of  the  real 
events  from  which  it  sprang.  It  is  its  own  event.  The  printed  texts  are 
the  residue  of  speakers  whose  auras  remain  mysteriously  intact. 
This  sense  of  aura  is  asserted  so  forcibly  throughout  the  pages  that 


10  Introduction 


follow,  that  the  source  book  is  at  the  same  time  a  collection  of  self- 
portraits.  The  texts  implicitly  comment  upon  and  criticize  one 
another  and  as  a  whole  make  it  overwhelmingly  apparent  that  to 
discuss  photographic  activity  is  to  become  involved  with  urgent 
questions  of  man's  moral  existence— his  desire  for  knowledge,  his 
need  for  sacrament. 

July  4, 1976     Eugenia  Parry  Janis  and  Wendy  MacNeil 


11  Introduction 


John 
Morris 


John  Godfrey  Morris  was  born  Decem- 
ber 7, 1916,  and  raised  in  Chicago.  After 
receiving  his  Bachelor's  degree  from 
the  University  of  Chicago  in  1937,  he 
worked  briefly  for  Time.  Soon,  he 
moved  to  the  Life  magazine  staff, 
where  his  picture  editing  experience 
grew  through  his  handling  of  World 
War  II  picture  coverage.  After  the  war, 
Morris  became  Picture  Editor  of  the 
Ladies'  Home  Journal.  In  1953,  he  be- 
came Executive  Editor  of  Magnum 
Photos,  and  in  1961  he  developed  the 
Magnum  News  Service.  In  1962,  he 
opened  his  own  "picture  workshop," 
the  Independent  Picture  Service.  He 
joined  The  Washington  Post  in  1964, 
and  later,  at  The  New  York  Times,  he 
served  as  Picture  Editor.  In  1973,  he  be- 
came Editor  of  NYT  Pictures,  The 
Times'  photo  service.  Now  retired  from 
The  Times,  Morris  lives  in  Manhattan 
and  plans  to  write  several  books  based 
on  his  experiences. 


. 


~ 


12  John  Morris 


I  was  never  a  photographer.  I  got  into  picture  editing  in  college,  when 
I  edited  a  monthly  magazine,  and  there  were  some  very  good  student 
photographers.  I  got  interested  in  pictures  and  my  great  ambition 
was  to  join  Time-Life.  I  joined  Time-Life  as  an  office  boy,  and  I  never 
got  any  higher  with  Time.  It  was  at  Life  that  I  worked  my  way  up  the 
ladder.  Writing  is  so  much  work  for  me  that  it  doesn't  bother  me  to 
suppress  my  writing  instincts  in  order  to  edit  pictures.  And  I  enjoy 
working  with  photographers,  who  are  really  like  children. 

I  had  applied  to  The  New  York  Times  for  a  job  in  1946. 1  was  hired 
in  1967. 1  was  among  the  skeptics  who  didn't  think  they  were  seri- 
ous about  pictures.  Clifton  Daniel,  who  hired  me,  asked  me  what  I 
thought  of  the  way  The  New  York  Times  used  pictures.  I  told  him 
I  thought  it  stank.  He  said,  "I  agree  with  you,  and  that's  why  I'd  like 
you  to  go  to  work." 

The  Times  doesn't  have  a  really  large  photographic  staff,  and  part 
of  the  reason  for  that  is  that  in  their  formative  years — I  hope  they 
still  are — The  Times  was  a  heavy,  dull-looking  newspaper.  I  don't 
think  it  ever  was  dull,  but  it  looked  dull.  When  I  became  Picture  Edi- 
tor of  The  Times  in  1967,  my  friends  would  make  cracks  like,  "Well, 
Picture  Editor  of  The  Times?  Do  they  have  one?"  Somebody  said  that 
becoming  the  Picture  Editor  of  The  New  York  Times  was  like  becom- 
ing recreation  director  of  Forest  Lawn. 

One  of  the  problems  for  the  Picture  Editor  of  The  Times  is  that  it's 
very  hard  to  achieve  the  delicate  intellectual  balance  between  pic- 
tures and  ideas.  So  often  the  top  story  of  the  day  just  defies  illustra- 
tion. This  is  really  one  of  the  most  critical  problems  in  journalism. 
Television  really  doesn't  solve  it  either.  You  could  make  a  good  case 
that  television  is  not  a  visual  medium  because  so  much  of  television 
is  just  somebody  sitting  and  talking  to  the  camera.  There's  getting 
to  be  a  terrible  repetition  of  news  on  television.  The  competition 
between  television  stations  has  been  putting  tremendous  over- 
emphasis on  crime  news,  because  it's  the  easiest  to  illustrate.  So 
we're  getting  an  insatiable  diet  of  news  that  really  isn't  all  that  vital 
for  society.  The  Times  is  trying  very  hard  to  stay  with  the  important 
news.  The  problem  we  have,  however,  is  to  attract  the  mass  audience 
of  television  while  maintaining  quality. 

So  few  people  reach  out  for  quality  journalism,  and  it  kind  of 
makes  me  sick.  Admittedly,  there  can  be  very  serious  intellectual 
reasons  for  not  reading  The  New  York  Times.  I  asked  a  historian  with 
whom  I  went  to  school,  William  Hardy  McNeill,  what  he  thought  of 
The  New  York  Times,  and  he  said,  "John,  I  don't  see  it."  I  couldn't  be- 
lieve it.  This  was  one  of  the  leading  historians,  and  he  said,  "I  just 
can't  get  that  involved  in  daily  events."  Well,  I  was  kind  of  horrified, 
and  yet  I  must  be  fair.  He's  sort  of  an  American  Toynbee.  He  takes  an 
overview  which  is  so  far  beyond  me.  So  he  can  say  that  and  get  away 
with  it.  And  I  must  confess,  I  probably  suffer  from  a  short  view  of 
things,  because  I  think  I'm  over-involved  in  daily  affairs.  The  situa- 
tion doesn't  really  change  that  much  from  day  to  day,  and  The  Times 
admittedly  touches  upon  a  lot  more  than  anybody  needs  to  know. 
You  know  our  slogan:  "You  don't  have  to  read  it  all,  but  it's  nice  to 
know  it's  all  there." 

The  Times  has  been  and  still  is  very  cautious  about  questions  of 
taste.  The  only  time  we  use  four  letter  words  is  when  they're  uttered 
by  the  President  of  the  United  States.  For  example,  you  may  recall  a 
famous  picture  taken  by  Malcolm  Browne  in  1965.  It  was  the  picture 

13  John  Morris 


of  the  burning  monk  in  Saigon.  The  New  York  Times  did  not  use  that 
"picture  for  the  reason  that  the  editors  thought  that  it  was  not  fit  for 
the  breakfast  table.  The  American  Society  of  Newspaper  Editors  has  / 

sort  of  a  monthly  newsletter,  and  they  interviewed  about  a  dozen  edi-        Y 
tors  around  the  country  as  to  what  they  did  with  that  picture.  Turner 
Catledge,  The  Times  editor,  simply  said  that  it  was  not  fit  for  the 
breakfast  table.  The  editor  of  the  Syracuse  newspaper  said  that  an 
editor  who  wouldn't  use  that  picture  wouldn't  have  run  a  story  on  the 
Crucifixion. 

A  year  after  I  came  to  The  Times,  the  Eddie  Adams  picture  of  a 
Saigon  police  chief  executing  a  prisoner  came  in  on  the  wire  just  be- 
fore the  afternoon  news  conference.  It  was  obviously  an  historic  pic- 
ture, so  I  mentioned  it  at  the  news  conference  to  make  sure  it  would 
get  into  the  paper,  because  there  were  still  many  word-minded  edi- 
tors in  positions  of  power.  But  the  assistant  managing  editor  was 
determined  to  make  the  picture  as  small  as  possible.  Fortunately  a 
picture  came  in  the  very  same  day,  of  an  atrocity  by  the  Vietcong  to 
a  child,  who  was  being  carried  in  its  mother's  arms.  The  two  pictures 
were  played  together,  which  gave  a  feeling  of  balance. 

The  Times,  unlike  almost  any  other  newspaper  in  the  world,  at- 
tempts to  make  moral  judgments  on  the  news,  and  to  put  everything 
in  its  proper  perspective.  And  because  The  Times's  front  page  judg- 
ment may  have  an  important  effect  on  national  policy,  on  the  stock 
market,  on  all  kinds  of  things,  this  is  a  very  important  decision- 
making process.  These  are  value  judgments,  if  you  wish.  The  ques- 
tion is  difficult— how  can  we  communicate  a  sense  of  decency  among 
people  through  photo- journalism? 

You  know,  we  talk  about  our  "free  world,"  but  we  have  to  put  that      / 
in  quotes  because  the  free  press  is  only  as  free  as  we  can  make  it  by 
probing.  A  lot  of  people  still  think  The  New  York  Times  is  a  Commu- 
nist newspaper  because  we  published  the  Pentagon  Papers.  One  of 
the  sad  things  is  that  we  didn't  publish  any  photographs  when  we 
ran  them,  which  I  think  was  a  mistake.  We  were  prepared  to  run 
photographs  on  the  Pentagon  Papers,  but  it  would  have  cost  some- 
where between  fifty  and  a  hundred  thousand  dollars  for  the  extra 
newsprint  necessary.  As  a  result,  many  people  never  even  read  the 
Pentagon  Papers.  I'm  not  sure  that  many  more  would  have  read  them 
if  there  had  been  pictures,  but  I  think  this  is  one  of  the  reasons  to 
run  pictures  in  newspapers. 

The  immediacy  of  the  television  picture  is  fantastic,  but  television    y/ 
just  cannot  be  there  quite  as  often  as  the  still  camera,  partly  because 
it's  more  cumbersome.  That  may  be  changing  though,  because  ENG, 
as  they  call  electronic  news  gathering,  is  coming  in.  Earlier,  I  cited  the 
Eddie  Adams  picture.  The  incident  was  also  recorded  by  a  television 
man.  I  never  happened  to  see  it  at  the  time,  but  some  people  did.  But 
damn  it,  the  picture  that  really  had  the  impact  was  the  Eddie  Adams 
picture,  because  people  could  see  it  not  once,  but  twice.  They  could 
hold  it  up,  and  look  at  it.  You'd  have  a  hard  time  finding  that  TV  foot- 
tage,  and  even  so,  you'd  see  it  for  a  few  seconds  and  then  it  would  be    / 
off.  The  same  thing  was  true  of  the  Nik  Ut  picture— that's  of  the  little/ 
girl  who  was  napalmed— that  was  also  recorded  on  television  film, 
and  it  moved  some  people  very  much;  but  it's  the  Nik  Ut  picture  that 
has  lasted  in  the  memories  of  people.  I  really  think  there's  something 
in  the  preserved  work,  and  the  preserved  page.  And  this  is  where  a 
sense  of  art  is  very  important,  because  this  is  what  galleries  are  all 


14  John  Morris 


Malcolm  Browne,  flev.  Quang  Due,  a 
Buddhist  monk,  burns  himself  to  death 
in  Saigon,  Vietnam,  before  thousands 
of  onlookers  to  protest  the  alleged  per- 
secution of  Buddhists  by  the  Vietna- 
mese government,  14  June  1963. 


Horst  Faas,  Twelve  year  old  Vietna- 
mese girl  during  the  battle  for  Dong 
Xoai,  hobbles  to  an  evacuation  heli- 
copter, 9  December  1965. 

Eddie  Adams,  South  Vietnamese  Na- 
tional Police  Chief  Brig.  Gen.  Nguyen 
Ngoc  Loan  executes  a  Vietcong  officer 
with  a  single  pistol  shot  in  the  head, 
Saigon,  1  February  1968. 


Nik  Ut,  Napalm  Victims,  South  Viet- 
nam, Associated  Press,  8  June  1972. 


15  John  Morris 


Esther  Bubley,  Peggy  Coleman,  House- 
wife, Washington  Heights,  New  York, 
from  series  "How  America  Lives," 
Ladies  Home  Journal,  February  1950. 

about.  They  can  hold  things  up  to  look  at  over  and  over,  and  you  can 
sit  on  a  bench  and  study  them.  But  unfortunately,  we  don't  treat  the 
printed  page  as  a  work  of  design  too  much.  I  mean,  you  don't  hear  the 
word  "design"  around  newspapers  very  much;  you  hear  "make-up." 
And  make-up  can  be  deadly. 

As  an  editor,  you  have  a  responsibility  to  the  photographer,  the 
reading  public  and  yourself.  Where  you  have  problems  is  where 
things  diverge.  Ideally,  there  shouldn't  be  any  conflict  among  these 
responsibilities.  But  as  an  editor,  I  guess  you  are  ultimately  respon- 
sible to  your  readers.  You're  responsible  to  your  collaborators  in 
terms  of  trying  to  be  fair  to  them  and  to  their  work,  but  as  an  editor 
you  often  have  to  make  some  very  brutal  choices  between  using  this 
photograph  or  that  one;  and  it's  helpful  to  be  objective  as  an  editor, 
if  possible,  although  it's  very  difficult.  That's  one  of  the  reasons  that 
newspaper  editors  get  callous — they  make  these  decisions  so  rou- 
tinely that  they  get  to  a  point  where  they  almost  welcome  disaster  be- 
cause it  means  that  tomorrow's  newspaper  will  sell. 

I  think  that  aesthetic  judgments  are  extremely  important  in 
photography,  too.  Aesthetic  judgment  is  ignored  too  much  by  work- 
ing journalists.  That's  one  of  the  reasons  we  see  atrocious  pictures  in 
newspapers  very  routinely.  There  has  to  be  a  marriage  between  art 
and  journalism,  between  form  and  content,  and  this  is  the  message 
that  was  driven  home  very  much  by  Cartier-Bresson,  with  whom  I 
worked  a  good  deal.  I  recommend  reading  his  statement  about  pho- 
tography which  appears  in  the  preface  to  The  Decisive  Moment,  in 
which  he  talks  about  the  decisive  moment  as  the  moment  when  form 
and  content  achieve  a  kind  of  happy  marriage.  It's  really  a  graphic 
moment  more  than  a  dramatic  one.  In  terms  of  human  perception,  I 
like  to  edit  for  decisive  moments.  For  example,  twenty  years  ago, 
when  I  was  Picture  Editor  of  the  Ladies'  Home  Journal,  we  did  a 
monthly  series  called  "How  America  Lives."  It  was  a  story  of  a  differ- 


Esther  Bubley,  Contact  sheet  for  the 
Coleman  family  project. 


16  John  Morris 


ent  American  family  each  month.  Now  you  know,  one  family  in  an 
apartment  house  lives  a  lot  like  another  one  in  many  basic  respects, 
especially  with  Kelvinators  and  things.  So  it  really  took  a  lot  of 
human  perception  to  make  one  story  stand  out  from  another.  I  used 
to  try  to  get  photographers  who  had  a  rapport  with  a  certain  kind  of 
family.  Esther  Bubley,  who  was  very  good  at  this,  was  doing  the  story 
of  a  New  York  housewife.  I  was  looking  at  her  contact  sheets,  and  she 
had  photographed  this  woman  making  a  bed.  There  were  a  number 
of  frames  that  were  pretty  much  the  same,  but  all  of  a  sudden  there 
was  one  frame  that  was  different.  The  only  difference  was  that  in- 
stead of  looking  down  at  the  bed,  she  raised  her  eyes.  I  noticed  this, 
and  said  to  Esther,  "What  happened?"  She  said,  "That's  when  the 
baby  cried."  So  that  was  the  moment,  you  see,  of  her  tiny  crisis.  And 
that's  when  the  picture  was  transformed  into  a  decisive  moment  for 
the  housewife.  It  was  just  that  little  eye  movement  that  made  a 
routine  situation  an  interesting  one.  This  kind  of  editing  sensitivity 
is  something  that  we  need  to  inculcate  in  a  lot  of  newspaper  people, 
and  for  that  matter,  television  people. 

I  have  my  problems  with  John  Szarkowski  regarding  that.  We 
had  a  big  fight  about  his  show,  "From  the  Picture  Press."  I  happened 
to  hate  that  show  because  I've  been  working  all  my  life  to  establish  a 
new  kind  of  image  of  the  press  photographer,  not  as  the  slam-bang 
photographer,  but  as  the'sensitive  photographer.  The  New  York 
Daily  News  put  up  the  money  for  the  show,  but  John  was  determined 
it  wasn't  going  to  be  a  Daily  News  show.  As  it  turned  out,  however, 
most  of  the  pictures  chosen  were  Daily  News  pictures.  I  didn't  pay 
any  attention  to  what  they  were  picking  from  The  Times  file,  so  when 
the  show  was  about  to  be  hung,  John  invited  me  over  to  see  what  they 
had  chosen.  He  left  me  alone  in  his  office,  where  they  had  a  mock-up 
of  the  show  on  the  walls.  I  looked  around,  and  three-quarters  of  the 
pictures  were  Daily  News  pictures;  there  was  just  a  handful  of  Times 
pictures.  I  was  so  upset,  not  because  there  were  so  few  Times  pictures, 
but  because  there  were  any.  When  I  saw  the  show,  I  didn't  want  any 
part  of  it.  When  John  came  in  and  said,  "What  do  you  think  of  it?" 
I  said,  "Well . . .  can  we  get  out?"  He  said,  "What  do  you  mean?"  I  said, 
"Well,  John,  it's  your  show,  it's  not  my  show,  and  I'd  rather  take  The 
New  York  Times  out  entirely."  We  had  quite  a  scene,  but  we're  still 
friends. 

Well  before  working  at  The  Times,  I  had  gotten  excited  about  the 
syndication  of  stories;  and  we  had  started,  experimentally,  a  thing 
called  the  Magnum  News  Service,  which  really  wasn't  so  much  a 
news  service  as  it  was  a  feature  service.  We  began  sending  out  Mag- 
num stories  once  a  month,  but  I  wasn't  content  with  that,  so  I  decided 
to  take  a  flyer  on  my  own,  and  founded  the  Independent  Picture  Ser- 
vice, IPS.  But  for  some  reason,  the  stories  didn't  sell  very  well.  This 
picture  was  taken  by  a  Swedish  photographer,  Lenn  Brink.  It  shows  a 
Vietnamese  prisoner  being  tortured.  It's  not  a  very  pleasant  picture. 
This  story,  which  came  out  in  1963,  was  published  almost  nowhere  in 
the  United  States,  although  it  was  sent  to  every  major  newspaper,  be- 
cause people  didn't  want  to  believe  that  the  South  Vietnamese  em- 
ployed torture  so  systematically. 

When  IPS  failed,  The  Washington  Post  offered  me  my  first  news- 
paper job,  which  was  that  of  assistant  managing  editor  for  graphics, 
in  charge  of  their  photo  staff.  I  really  had  a  ball  down  there,  until  they 
fired  me  fifteen  months  later  because  we  got  into  a  big  hassle  one 


17  John  Morris 


afternoon.  But  I  really  had  a  marvelous  time,  and  I  still  love  them  and 
they  love  me.  And  they  trained  me  for  The  New  York  Times.  At  any 
rate,  The  Post  at  that  time  did  a  lot  of  color.  I'm  not  terribly  happy 
about  color  for  a  lot  of  reasons,  in  emotional  terms.  I  remember  talk- 
ing with  Dorothea  Lange  about  color  once.  She  was  never  comfort- 
able with  color,  either.  I  don't  think  she  used  it  more  than  a  very  few 
times  in  her  life.  She  said,  "The  problem  with  color  is  that  it  tells  you 
too  much;  it  doesn't  leave  enough  to  the  imagination."  I  think  there's 
something  in  that — it  kind  of  tells  you  more  than  you  want  to  know. 
Whereas  black  and  white  is  more  of  a  challenge,  perhaps,  to  the 
imagination,  unless  you  happen  to  be  color-blind. 

Anyway,  on  Inauguration  Day  in  1965,  we  had  six  different  color 
pages.  My  favorite  one  is  an  aerial  shot  taken  the  Sunday  before  In- 
auguration Day.  There  had  been  a  light  snowfall  in  Washington.  Dick 
Darcey  went  up  in  a  helicopter  and  came  as  close  as  he  could.  There's 
a  security  zone  around  the  White  House — you  can't  fly  right  over  it — 
but  he  came  pretty  close.  If  you  know  Washington,  there's  the  White 
House  toward  the  bottom,  and  the  reviewing  stand  already  set  up  on 
Pennsylvania  Avenue.  And  then  there's  the  Ellipse  and  the  Monu- 
ment, and  so  on.  Anyway,  when  I  first  showed  this  to  my  unsophisti- 
cated colleagues  at  The  Washington  Post,  one  of  them  said,  "But 
John,  there's  no  color  in  it."  I  said,  "Come  on,  Ben,  this  is  going  to  look 
like  Wedgwood  when  it's  reproduced."  The  day  after  the  Inaugura- 
tion, I  came  to  work  and  found  a  piece  of  Wedgwood  china  on  my 
desk.  There  was  a  note  f  romthe  deputy  managing  editor,  with  whom 
I  had  this  argument,  saying  that  his  wife  had  opened  the  paper  and 
exclaimed,  "Ben,  it's  just  like  Wedgwood!" 

I  really  treated  The  Washington  Post  as  an  experimental  news- 
paper. I  wish  I  could  have  experimented  with  it  more,  but  The  Post 
was  a  little  bit  gung-ho  in  Vietnam  in  those  days.  This  was  not  the 
clash  that  took  me  out  of  that  job,  because  that  was  not  an  ideological 
clash;  however,  I  became  increasingly  concerned  about  the  Ameri- 
can involvement  in  the  war. 

My  Lai  is  a  case  in  point,  and  one  which  presents  a  very  interest- 
ing story  in  terms  of  journalistic  responsibility.  The  kid  who  made 
these,  Ron  Haeberle,  suppressed  them  himself  for  a  long  time.  He 
used  to  show  them  to  women's  clubs  in  Shaker  Heights,  and  things 
like  that,  but  he  was  afraid  of  the  story,  as  a  lot  of  people  were.  I've 
talked  with  Peter  Arnett,  who  is  one  of  the  most  capable  correspon- 
dents. Peter  was  the  AP  bureau  chief  in  Saigon,  a  really  first-rate 
journalist.  He  was  there  at  the  time  of  My  Lai.  When  we  talked  about 
why  the  press  corps  never  knew  of  it  at  the  time,  he  said,  "Well,  the 
problem  was  that  there  were  just  so  many  different  directions  you 
could  go,  and  to  the  Army  this  was  no  big  deal,  you  know."  If  My  Lai 
was  no  big  deal,  there  were  probably  many  other  things  of  similar 
scope,  although  not  necessarily  the  same  number  of  people  were  in- 
volved. It's  sad  but  true  that  you  can  believe  the  worst  of  a  lot  of 
American  behavior  in  Vietnam.  I  begin  to  sound  unpatriotic  when  I 
talk  this  way,  but  I  thought  it  was  kind  of  my  patriotic  duty  to  try  to 
make  people  see  it  differently.  At  any  rate,  that's  a  long  preamble  to 
telling  you  about  the  story  of  the  My  Lai  pictures  and  The  New  York 
Times. 

Mr.  Haeberle  finally  surfaced  after  the  CBS  interview  with  Calley. 
He  got  very  bold  and  went  to  The  Cleveland  Plain  Dealer,  trying  to 
make  some  money.  He  offered  the  pictures  to  The  Cleveland  Plain 
Dealer  for  nothing,  if  they  would  publish  them.  They  checked  them 


Dick  Darcey,  Aerial  View  of  Washing- 
ton, Inauguration  Day.  1965.  Courtesy 
of  John  Morris. 


18  John  Morris 


Ron  Haeberle,  My  Lai  Massacre,  16 
March  1968. 


out,  and  they  checked  out.  So  The  Cleveland  Plain  Dealer  ran  them, 
but  big,  one  day.  Then  Haeberle  had  them  copyrighted,  and  flew 
to  New  York  with  his  friend,  a  journalist  named  Eszterhas.  They 
wanted  to  make  $100,000. 1  didn't  mind  their  making  money;  I  felt 
that  the  pictures  were  important  to  be  seen.  But  they  got  all  involved 
in  a  hassle  with  Life.  Life  magazine  wanted  the  story  but  they  wanted 
it  on  their  terms.  Then  some  people,  notably  The  New  York  Times, 
offered  Haeberle  some  money  for  just  one  photograph.  We  thought 
one  was  enough,  from  our  standpoint,  to  document  the  tragedy.  So 
we  dickered  with  Haeberle,  but  he  wanted  an  incredible  amount  of 
money.  We  said  that  we'd  help  him  make  a  lot  of  money,  but  we 
couldn't  pay  him  a  lot  of  money.  The  New  York  Post  decided  that 
these  pictures  really  belonged  to  the  taxpayers  anyway,  because 
Haeberle  had  taken  them  as  a  soldier,  so  they  just  went  ahead  and 
ran  them.  Then  we  got  tired  of  dickering  with  Haeberle,  and  we  also 
ran  one  without  his  permission.  He's  never  come  around  since  with 
his  hat  in  his  hand.  We  didn't  play  it  sensationally;  this  is  actually 
page  three  of  The  New  York  Times.  It  was  run  very  sadly,  just  as  a 
document  of  what  everybody  was  talking  about.  Life  followed  up  the 
next  week  with  a  color  layout,  which  was  their  way  of  doing  it. 

Another  example  of  journalistic  responsibility  is  George  Strock's 
picture  of  Buna  Beach,  taken  in  New  Guinea  for  Life.  I  think  it  is  one 
of  the  most  tragic  pictures  of  World  War  II.  It  was  taken  in  defiance 
of  censorship.  One  of  the  rules  of  war  is  that  you  don't  show  your  own 
dead;  you  don't  want  to  show  you're  losing,  especially  to  the  enemy. 
But  at  the  same  time,  this  is  an  important  picture.  Strock,  I  think, 
came  all  the  way  back  to  Washington  to  fight  the  censors  on  it,  there- 
by sort  of  breaking  the  house  rules.  It  is  kind  of  a  landmark  picture. 
Life  had  the  guts  to  publish  it,  and  it's  sort  of  the  way  war  is.  I  once 
wrote  a  piece  about  war  photography  called  "The  Smell  of  Death." 
Unless  you  have  known  dead  men  well  enough  to  smell  them — it's  the 
most  God-awful  stench  you  can  imagine — you  haven't  experienced 
war. 


19  John  Morkis 


How  can  you  stop  a  war?  Can  you  stop  it  with  pictures?  The  big 
problem  with  the  Vietnam  War  is  that  the  picture  taking  didn't 
really  begin  early  enough  in  a  serious  way.  I  wrote  an  article  about 
this  for  Harper's  magazine  a  couple  of  years  ago.  It  was  about  the 
whole  responsibility  of  the  press  in  terms  of  the  picture  coverage  of 
the  war,  particularly  the  Vietnam  War.  In  it  I  pointed  out  that  the 
early  stages  of  the  war,  and  American  bombing,  which  was  top  sec- 
ret, were  suppressed  in  terms  of  picture  coverage.  We  can  shed  a  lot 
of  tears  about  the  orphans  now,  but  the  first  American  serviceman 
who  died  in  Vietnam  was  just  a  paragraph.  There  was  no  photograph 
made  of  that  man. 

Now  we've  had  a  lot  of  discussion  today,  in  the  seminars,  about 
what  one's  responsibility  is  in  terms  of  war  picture  coverage.  God 
knows,  I  wish  I  could  give  you  some  answers.  I've  thought  a  lot  about 
it,  I've  suffered  a  lot,  and  I've  lost  a  lot  of  friends  in  the  process,  in- 
cluding a  number  in  Vietnam. 

I  worked  with  Robert  Capa  a  great  deal  in  World  War  II.  One  day 
in  1954  when  we  were  working  together  at  Magnum,  I  had  lunch  with 
the  Picture  Editor  of  Life,  who  asked  if  Capa  would  like  to  cover  the 
war  in  Indochina,  while  Howard  Sochurekcame  home.  Capa  hap- 
pened to  be  in  Tokyo.  I  wanted  to  say  no,  but  I  felt  I  should  ask  him, 
so  I  sent  a  cable  to  Capa  saying  that  Life  wanted  him  to  cover  the  war. 


George  Strock,  Maggot  Beach  near 
Buna,  New  Guinea,  1943. 


20  John  Morris 


To  my  horror  he  said  he'd  go,  so  I  telephoned  him,  trying  to  shout  all 
the  way  to  Tokyo.  I  said,  "Bob,  it's  not  our  war.  You  don't  have  to  go. 
Don't  go."  But  he  went,  and  he  got  killed,  and  it  was  just  a  dreadful, 
dreadful  thing. 

We  buried  Capa  in  a  Quaker  cemetery  in  Westchester  County, 
a  little  quiet  place.  The  previous  Sunday  we  had  a  little  memorial 
service  for  him  at  the  Quaker  meeting  house.  Edward  Steichen  was 
sitting  next  to  me  and  Bob's  mother  was  there,  and  Cornell,  his 
brother,  was  there.  In  the  style  of  the  Quaker  meeting,  anybody 
could  speak  who  wanted  to,  and  it  was  a  very  emotional  thing.  Then, 
the  body  finally  came  back,  and  I  hate  bodies,  and  I  hated  this  big 
French  army  coffin  that  came  all  the  way  from  Vietnam.  It  was  a 
huge  ugly  thing,  and  we  were  putting  it  in  the  ground.  A  photog- 
rapher came  up,  a  kid,  and  started  taking  pictures.  One  of  the  mem- 
bers of  the  family  came  over  to  me  and  said,  "Can't  you  stop  that?"  I 
started  to  go  over  to  the  photographer,  and  said  to  myself,  "My  God, 
what  are  we  doing?"  So  I  couldn't  stop  him.  The  photographer  turned 
out  to  be  Dirck  Halstead,  who  is  now  covering  the  White  House  for 
Time  magazine.  This  is  when  it  hits  you.  This  is  why  to  me  the  com- 
bination of  human  sensitivity  and  aesthetics  are  the  two  governing 
things.  Oddly  enough,  the  intellectual  often  doesn't  appreciate  these 
things.  I  think  that  one  of  the  reasons  we  have  so  much  bad  photog- 
raphy and  so  much  bad  photojournalism  is  the  lack  of  sensitivity. 

But  let  me  go  back  a  little  bit.  Let's  explore  sensitivity  in  presiden- 
tial picture  coverage,  from  Franklin  Roosevelt  to  Gerald  Ford.  Roose- 
velt had  a  physical  infirmity;  therefore,  there  was  an  informal  rule  of 
censorship  in  the  entire  Roosevelt  administration.  Very  few  honest, 
candid  pictures  of  Franklin  Roosevelt  were  taken,  partly  because  he 
would  never  be  photographed  being  helped.  There  are  some  marvel- 
ous pictures  of  Franklin  Roosevelt  and  his  sort  of  jaunty  public  per- 
sonality, but  there  are  really  very  few  behind-the-scenes  photo- 
graphs. Then  you've  got  Harry  Truman,  who,  like  Gerald  Ford,  was 
a  very  confident,  self-assured  man  who  had  nothing  to  hide.  Of  all  the 
presidents  in  modern  times,  I  think  Harry  Truman  was  the  most 
loved  by  press  photographers.  They  enjoyed  him  very  much.  Then 
you  get  to  Eisenhower,  who,  sort  of  like  Ford,  didn't  have  much  to  hide 
and  was  also  fairly  relaxed,  but  a  little  distant.  He  wasn't  that  fond 
of  the  press.  Truman  really  had  a  rapport.  He  was  a  politician.  But  it 
was  during  Eisenhower's  period  that  television  became  an  important 
factor,  and  Eisenhower  was  the  first  president  to  be  televised  in  any 
regular  way.  Then  the  whole  business  of  photography  in  the  White 
House  became  more  and  more  of  a  circus,  with  more  and  more  people 
and  equipment  involved.  In  television  you  have  not  one  man,  but  a 
minimum  of  two.  With  lights  and  sound,  candid  photography  be- 
came very  difficult. 

Well,  we  get  through  the  1950s,  and  we  get  to  1960,  and  there  was  a 
story  where  the  timing  was  journalistically  the  best  I  think  I've  ever 
achieved.  In  the  1960  campaign,  Jacqueline  Kennedy  had  been  inter- 
viewed by  Molly  Thayer,  a  journalist  who  was  an  informal  Washing- 
ton correspondent  for  Magnum.  Molly  had  j  ust  written  a  piece  about 
Jackie  at  a  press  conference  that  Jackie  liked.  Molly  showed  me  this 
note  from  Jackie  that  said,  "If  Jack  gets  elected,  I'd  like  to  do  you  a 
favor."  My  eyes  lit  up  like  green  dollars,  and  the  day  after  the  elec- 
tion, I  called  Molly  and  said,  "O.K.,  collect."  So  she  called  Hyannis- 
port,  and  was  one  of  the  first  callers  to  get  through  after  the  election 


21   John  Morris 


Cornell  Capa,  Jacqueline  Kennedy 
with  Baby  Carriage,  White  House 
Garden,  1961. 


victory  was  confirmed.  And  Jackie  delivered  right  on  schedule.  A 
Secret  Service  man  came  to  the  house  that  weekend  in  Georgetown 
and  delivered  all  kinds  of  personal  notes  and  papers  and  photo- 
graphs. Molly  put  a  series  together  which  ran  four  months  in  the 
Ladies'  Home  Journal.  The  first  installment  appeared  on  Inaugura- 
tion Day,  which  was  kind  of  nice,  and  we  got  a  great  deal  of  money 

for  it. 

John  Kennedy,  who  was  very  sophisticated  about  photography, 
did  not  have  a  personal  photographer.  Kennedy  started  a  policy  of 
inviting  photographers  like  Cornell  Capa  and  others  sort  of  behind 
the  scenes  to  give  a  candid  feeling.  This  was  very  important  in  hu- 
manizing Kennedy,  who  really  didn't  need  much  humanizing  any- 
way. The  press  really  had  a  great  love  affair  with  the  Kennedys  in 
many  ways.  And  still  does.  This  was  a  new  dimension  in  presidential 
coverage,  when  you  saw  the  kids  under  the  desk,  and  Mrs.  Kennedy 
wheeling  a  baby  carriage  (which  was  a  famous  exclusive  that  Cornell 
Capa  made) ,  and  things  like  that.  Then  we  came  to  Lyndon  Johnson. 
Johnson,  as  Vice-President,  had  gone  to  Asia  with  a  USIA  photog- 
rapher named  Yoichi  Okamoto,  a  very  skilled  photographer,  a 
knowledgeable  historian,  and  a  good  golfer.  Johnson  decided  to  bring 
Okamoto  into  the  White  House  as  his  personal  photographer,  which 
was  the  same  role  that  Okamoto  had  played  on  the  trip  to  Asia.  Okie 
began  shooting  a  great  deal  of  film  which  Johnson  found  very  useful 
politically.  Johnson  was  a  little  sensitive  about  it  though,  as  he  liked 
to  be  photographed  only  from  one  side.  Still,  he  actually  did  give 
Okamoto  freedom  to  make  a  simply  unparalleled  record  of  the  presi- 
dency, which  isn't  really  being  continued  today,  I'm  sorry  to  say, 
although  it's  a  little  early  to  pass  that  judgment.  This  Okamoto  pic- 
ture, which  illustrates  the  effectiveness  with  which  Okamoto  really 
got  into  the  inside,  happens  to  be  a  Six  Day  War  situation  from  1967. 
That's  McNamara  on  the  phone,  supposedly  on  the  Hot  Line.  I'm  not 
actually  sure  that  he  isn't  calling  his  wife,  but  the  feeling  is  there.  I 
mean,  that  is  for  real.  This  is  where  decisions  are  made.  It's  kind  of 
the  way  they're  made,  and  I  think  it's  very  important  for  us  taxpay- 
ers to  try  to  learn  more  about  this. 


22  John  Morris 


Ollie  Atkins,  President  Nixon's  Cab- 
inet receiving  gifts  from  China  as  the 
President  reports  his  travels.  They  re- 
ceived teacups,  cans  of  Chinese  green 
tea  and  mahogany  jewel  boxes.  From 
center  toward  right  are:  George  Shultz, 
Budget  Office:  Elliot  Richardson, 
Health,  Education  and  Welfare;  Rogers 
C.  B.  Morton,  Interior,-  William  P. 
Rogers,  State;  President  Nixon;  Melvin 
R.  Laird,  Defense;  Peter  G.  Peterson, 
Commerce  and  John  Volpe,  Transpor- 
tation. Aides  are  seated  against  the 
wall,  29  February  1972. 


Mike  Lien,  Agnew  Playing  Tennis, 
New  York  Times  (page  1) ,  20  May  1970. 


Yoichi  Okamoto,  Robert  McNamara 
on  the  Telephone,  8  June  1967. 


• . . . . . 


23  John  Morris 


I  have  talked  with  David  Kennerly  (Ford's  personal  photog- 
rapher) about  this,  and  he's  very  aware  of  what  Okamoto  did,  which 
was  to  be  able  to  photograph  the  really  top  level  and  sometimes  sec- 
ret business  of  the  presidency.  Okamoto,  who  had  top  secret  clear- 
ance, could  walk  in  on  the  President  at  almost  any  time,  even  once 
into  the  bedroom  in  Texas.  Okamoto  could  and  did  make  photo- 
graphs of  National  Security  Council  meetings,  meetings  in  the  War 
Room  when  they  were  discussing  the  Vietnamese  crisis,  McNamara 
talking  on  the  Hot  Line — all  these  things.  It's  really  a  fabulous  rec- 
ord, and  a  lot  of  it  still  hasn't  come  out.  Unfortunately,  all  of  this  came 
to  an  end  with  the  Nixon  administration,  which  was,  except  for  the 
tapes,  very  tight-mouthed. 

I'm  not  trying  to  make  out  that  Okamoto's  work  was  all  sweetness 
and  light,  because  the  press  was  very  uptight  about  a  lot  of  things 
Okamoto  did.  It  actually  wasn't  so  much  about  what  he  did,  as  it  was 
that  the  White  House  would  shovel  the  pictures  out  at  its  own  dis- 
cretion. There  is  a  big  problem  in  America  about  control  of  the  press. 
We  don't  really  talk  about  control,  but  we  talk  about  influence.  Every 
president  likes  to  have  a  good  press  and  a  good  image  and  perhaps 
the  most  image-conscious  of  all  was  our  late  friend,  Mr.  Nixon.  This 
was  the  kind  of  picture  he  absolutely  adored.  It  was  taken  the  day  he 
met  with  the  Cabinet  upon  his  return  from  China.  It  was  taken  by 
Ollie  Atkins,  who  succeeded  Okamoto  as  White  House  photographer, 
or  perhaps  by  one  of  his  assistants  (the  White  House  staff  is  more 
than  one  man,  obviously) .  They're  applauding  John  Connolly  on  the 
left,  and  some  other  characters  you  might  recognize  if  you  could  look 
closely.  It's  a  different  style  of  presidential  picture  coverage.  I  once 
went  into  the  White  House  basement  to  ask  Ollie  for  some  pictures, 
and  I  said,  "Can  I  see  what  you  shot  last  month?"  They  were  pictures 
of  birthday  cakes,  and  things  like  that;  I  mean,  it's  quite  a  different 
ball  game.  Occasionally  you  just  have  to  get  your  kicks  somewhere  in 
the  picture  business;  and  that  ball  actually  hit  the  partner  a  fraction 
of  a  second  later.  Mike  Lien  caught  this — he  was  really  delighted,  and 
I  was  delighted  that  we  ran  it  on  page  one.  That  was  the  kind  of  thing 
you  had  to  do  to  get  back  at  the  Nixon  White  House.  Mr.  Nixon  was 
uncomfortable  with  the  press,  and  also  the  camera,  so  the  most  re- 
vealing pictures  of  Nixon  are  those  he  didn't  plan. 

Now  we  have  Dave  Kennerly  assigned  to  Ford.  Ford  saw  that  one 
of  his  great  political  assets  was  this  feeling  of  casualness — a  man-to- 
man sort  of  style.  It  j  ust  fits  in  very  well.  I've  been  following  presiden- 
tial picture  coverage  for  a  long  time,  and  I'm  somewhat  amused  by 
the  Ford  casualness.  One  of  Ford's  greatest  attributes  is  that  he  is  nat- 
ural, he  is  relaxed,  and  he  may  not  be  a  great  man,  but  he  is  a  fairly 
uncomplicated  man.  He  doesn't  seem  to  have  anything  he  really 
wants  to  hide  in  a  personal  way.  Cynics  would  say,  "That's  too  bad," 
but  in  an  interesting  way,  the  Fords  are  humble  people. 


24  John  Morris 


I  guess  my  story  is  not  really  a  success  story.  It's  a  survival  story.  The 
fact  that  I  can  stand  here  and  talk  to  you  and  feel  response,  which  I 
think  is  really  wonderful,  indicates  to  me  that  there's  a  lot  of  healthy 
concern  about  photojournalism.  There  are  lots  of  discussions  about 
photography  from  the  standpoint  of  technique,  or  perhaps  even  aes- 
thetics, and  actually  there's  a  growing  number  of  discussions  about 
photography  and  photojournalism  in  terms  of  ethics.  I  welcome 
raising  these  kinds  of  questions  openly  for  discussion.  I  think  it's  an 
area  of  discussion  that  is  rather  rare. 

The  big  problem  for  us  is  to  find  the  proper  outlets  for  photoj  our- 
nalism.  This  is  a  dreadfully  serious  problem.  We  miss  the  big  picture 
magazines.  We  particularly  miss  Life,  because  although  politically  it 
was  very  much  to  the  right,  it  was  a  marvelous  form  of  presentation 
of  images.  That  magazine  at  one  time  gave  you  the  feeling  that 
this  was  where  photography  was  at,  for  better  or  for  worse.  You  could 
see  it  there;  it  was  everybody's  photo  market  place.  So  we  miss  it,  we 
miss  it  very  badly.  A  lot  of  fine  work  is  being  done  today,  but  it's  frag- 
mented in  its  outlets.  It's  in  The  Maine  Times,  and  it's  in  The  Berk- 
shire Eagle,  or  whatever.  It's  in  the  Audubon  magazine  and  The 
Smithsonian.  In  total  perhaps,  there  are  just  as  many  outlets  for  good 
photography  as  there  ever  were,  but  they're  j  ust  all  over  the  map.  I'd 
like  to  see  a  new  picture  magazine.  I'll  never  rest  until  I  see  a  new 
weekly  picture  magazine. 


25  John  Morris 


Paul 

Schuster 

Taylor 


Paul  Schuster  Taylor,  professor  emeri- 
tus of  economics  at  the  University  of 
California  at  Berkeley,  is  the  husband 
of  the  late  Dorothea  Lange.  Co-author 
with  her  of  An  American  Exodus,  he  is 
a  specialist  in  agricultural  labor  prob- 
lems. From  1927  to  1929,  Professor  Tay- 
lor was  the  chief  investigator  of  a  re- 
search project  of  the  Social  Science 
Research  Council  on  Mexican  Labor  in 
the  United  States;  in  1935  he  was  field 
director  of  the  division  of  rural  reha- 
bilitation of  the  California  Emergency 
Relief  Administration;  between  1935 
and  1936  he  served  as  regional  labor 
advisor  of  the  United  States  Resettle- 
ment Administration.  Professor  Taylor 
was  a  consulting  economist  of  the 
Social  Security  Board  between  1936 
and  1941,  the  president  of  the  Califor- 
nia Rural  Rehabilitation  Corporation 
from  1935  to  1943,  and  a  consulting  econ- 
omist of  the  Department  of  the  In- 
terior from  1943  to  1952.  More  recently, 
in  1970  he  was  the  research  director  of 
the  California  Labor  Federation.  He  is 
the  author  of  Sailors  Union  of  the  Pa- 
cific; Mexican  Labor  in  the  United 
States;  A  Spanish-Mexican  Community 
Arandas  in  Jalisco,  Mexico;  An  Ameri- 
can-Mexican Frontier;  An  American 
Exodus;  Slave  to  Freedom  and  Georgia 

Plan:  1732-1752. 


26  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


Dorothea  Lange,  Agitator,  ca.  1934. 


Looking  into  the  rearview  mirror  and  speaking  for  myself,  I  can- 
not remember  that  anyone  in  my  profession  oriented  me  toward  the 
use  of  visual  images.  My  undergraduate  training  at  the  University  of 
Wisconsin  was  at  the  hands  of  unusually  able  and  even  innovative 
professors  of  economics,  history,  and  sociology,  but  none  of  them 
made  use  of  pictures  or  suggested  it.  That  I  stumbled  into  gradually, 
not  as  a  social  scientist  but  as  a  young  human  being. 

I  was  born  and  raised  in  a  small  northwest  Iowa  city.  In  boyhood  I 
lived  and  worked  through  summer  and  harvest  seasons  on  the  family 
farm  of  an  uncle  in  southern  Wisconsin.  After  high  school  I  worked 
three  summers  as  a  laborer  on  a  2000  acre  Iowa  farm.  These  experi- 
ences gave  me  familiarity  with  widely  different  types  of  rural  society, 
but  they  stimulated  no  urge  to  record  the  visual  images  by  camera. 

As  a  child  I  saw  the  mounted  photographs  my  parents  had  had 
made  at  a  studio,  and  there  was  an  informal  blue  print  of  me  sitting 
in  a  wicker  laundry  basket.  In  high  school  photographs  of  students 
came  according  to  the  calendar.  When  you  got  to  be  a  junior,  you  got 
your  picture  in  the  annual;  when  you  got  to  college,  more  or  less  ditto. 
And  that  was  photography. 

Then  came  World  War  I  and  the  first  camera  I  personally  owned. 
I  do  not  recall  knowing  then  of  the  Mathew  Brady  photographs  of 
the  Civil  War;  certainly  I  never  thought  of  that  as  my  role  in  my  own 
war.  But  about  that  time  a  new,  convenient  instrument  came  onto 
the  market — a  small,  vestpocket  Kodak,  it  was  called.  In  it  I  saw  the 
chance,  if  I  took  it  with  me  to  France,  of  recording  and  bringing  home 
some  memorabilia  of  my  military  service  with  the  American  Expedi- 
tionary Forces.  My  success  as  a  photographer  was  meager;  but  a  5  x  7 
print  still  could  tell  of  the  horrors  of  war  better  than  my  hand  writ- 
ten letters. 

After  the  war,  my  graduate  training  was  again  in  the  hands  of 
first-rate  professionals  in  the  social  sciences.  Again,  so  far  as  I  can  re- 
call, visual  images  had  no  place  in  my  study  program. 

Then  came  another  step  toward  change.  Not  long  after  the  grant- 
ing of  degrees  and  joining  the  faculty,  I  had  the  opportunity  to  do 
field  research  on  the  contemporary  migration  of  laborers  between 
Mexico  and  the  United  States.  This  time  I  bought  a  postcard-size 
Eastman  Kodak  to  take  into  the  field.  I  wanted  some  kind  of  a  visual 
record  of  what  I  was  about  to  see.  In  retrospect,  I  think  it  likely  that 
I  was  stimulated  by  familiarity  with  Paul  Kellogg's  Survey  Graphic 
magazine,  which  every  month  presented  contemporary  social  situa- 
tions throughout  the  country,  combining  text  and  photographs. 

Then  again,  still  before  I  knew  of  Dorothea  Lange,  came  techno- 
logical change  to  prod  me.  In  Mexico  in  1932 1  was  shown  a  new  kind 
of  camera,  one  that  enabled  you  to  see  what  you  were  going  to  take 
before  you  took  it.  The  new  Rolleiflex  transformed  my  own  relation- 
ship to  photography.  I  took  more  pictures;  and  with  the  products 
found  ways  of  persuading  academic  publishers  to  print  some  of  my 
photographs  along  with  my  text. 

I  have  been  describing  my  own  slow  climb  up  the  ladder  towards 
an  appreciation  of  photographs,  and  eventually  of  combining  them 
with  words.  Dorothea  Lange  by  age  seventeen  knew  that  she  wanted 
to  photograph  unemployed  persons.  She  asked  herself  the  question, 
"If  I  am  a  photographer,  why  do  I  photograph  only  those  persons  who 
pay  me  to  do  it?"  Her  answer  was  to  go  out  onto  the  streets,  camera  in 
hand.  That  was  before  we  met. 


27  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


Paul  Schuster  Taylor,  Dorothea  Lange 
in  Texas,  1934. 


Her  next  steps  soon  brought  us  together.  An  historian  university 
colleague  of  mine  told  me  that  in  adjacent  Oakland  lived  a  photog- 
rapher who  had  a  small  exhibit  room  where  he  showed  photographs 
made  outside  his  studio.  I  went  to  see.  On  that  day  the  photographs  he 
was  showing  had  been  made  by  Dorothea  Lange,  of  whom,  of  course, 
I  had  never  heard.  What  fascinated  me  especially  among  her  prints 
was  one  of  a  street  agitator  bellowing  into  a  microphone  at  the  San 
Francisco  Civic  Center.  It  fitted  my  current  need  exactly.  In  collab- 
oration with  a  colleague  at  the  university,  I  had  just  completed  and 
sent  to  the  Survey  Graphic  the  draft  of  an  article  on  San  Francisco 
and  the  General  Strike  of  1934. 1  wanted  that  photograph  to  accom- 
pany it.  The  exhibitor,  Willard  van  Dyke  put  me  on  the  phone  with 
Dorothea  Lange;  and  her  photograph  became  the  frontispiece  of  our 
article.  I  think  we  paid  her  fifteen  dollars  for  the  photograph.  That 
was  money  in  those  days. 

Another  step  followed  quickly.  Van  Dyke  told  me  that  a  few  of  his 
photographer  friends  wanted  more  opportunity  to  photograph  the 
unemployed,  but  were  uncertain  how  to  arrange  it.  I  told  him  of  my 
own  study  then  in  progress  of  self-help  cooperatives  among  the  un- 
employed. One  of  their  projects  was  operating  a  sawmill  in  the  Cali- 
fornia foothills.  So  one  day  at  my  door  in  Berkeley,  Williard  van 
Dyke,  Preston  Holder,  an  anthropologist,  Mary  Jeannette  Edwards, 
Imogen  Cunningham,  and  Dorothea  Lange  all  turned  up. 

Regarding  the  difference  in  Dorothea's  and  Imogen's  approach  to 
photography,  if  Dorothea  saw  someone  leaning  on  an  axe,  she  would 
get  him  leaning  on  the  axe.  Imogen  Cunningham  would  see  some- 
thing she  wanted  to  photograph,  prepare  herself,  and  get  into  posi- 


28  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


tion  much  more  slowly.  She'd  come  out  with  a  beautiful  result,  but 
it  was  much  more  deliberate.  Dorothea  very  seldom  used  a  tripod. 
Imogen,  whether  or  not  she  used  a  tripod,  used  some  kind  of  a  rest 
for  her  camera.  But  each  photographer  had  her  own  characteristic 
way  of  discerning  what  she  wanted  to  photograph. 

I  wish  I'd  brought  a  speech  by  the  former  president  of  the  Univer- 
sity of  Wisconsin,  one  of  the  famed  geologists  of  his  day,  in  which  in 
1901  he  spoke  of  the  importance  of  what  hits  the  retina  of  the  eye.  He 
emphasized  that  the  image  that  hits  the  eye  of  the  untrained  geolo- 
gist, the  trained  geologist,  or  the  ordinary  untrained  person  is  the 
same;  but  what  they  see  is  not  the  same. 

In  January  of  1935, 1  was  asked  to  do  the  research  and  to  recom- 
mend a  rural  rehabilitation  program  for  the  New  Deal  Relief  Ad- 
ministration in  California.  I  was  asked,  "What  staff  do  you  need?" 
I  told  them  I  wanted  a  few  people  with  academic  training  and,  of 
course,  I  wanted  a  secretary  to  type  my  letters  and  reports.  Beyond 
that,  I  said  I'd  like  a  photographer.  Well,  the  first  question  was,  what 
did  I  want  a  photographer  for?  I  was  a  social  scientist,  wasn't  I?  Yes. 
Well,  did  a  social  scientist  generally  ask  for  a  photographer?  No. 
Why  did  I  want  a  photographer?  Because  the  people  who  were  going 
to  make  the  decisions  about  what  to  do  about  my  reports  were  in  the 
cities  and  wouldn't  see  the  conditions  unless  a  photographer  supplied 
the  photographs  to  accompany  the  text.  Back  and  forth  we  went.  The 
director  of  the  division  put  me  on  as  field  director  and  finally  the 
office  manager  put  Dorothea  Lange  on  the  budget  as  a  typist.  Nobody 
had  a  place  in  the  budget  for  a  photographer  in  those  days. 

When  I  came  in  with  my  first  project  report,  Dorothea  told  me 
how  to  do  it.  I  had  the  properly  typed  text,  which  laid  out  all  the  con- 
ditions, gave  what  history  and  background  there  was,  what  statistics 
or  estimates  I  was  able  to  put  in,  and  what  I  was  able  to  recommend. 
You've  heard  of  wire  spiral  binding.  Well,  that  was  just  new  and  I'd 
never  heard  of  it;  but  she  had.  So  we  spiral  bound  her  photographs 
along  with  my  text.  When  the  members  of  the  California  Relief  Ad- 
ministration were  sitting  around  a  table,  my  skeptical  director  of  the 
Division  of  Rural  Rehabilitation  tore  out  four  or  five  of  the  sheets  that 
had  Dorothea's  photographs  on  them  and  passed  them  around  the 
table.  The  Commission  voted  him  $200,000  to  set  up  sanitary  camps 
for  migrant  laborers.  So  after  that,  no  question  was  raised  about  why 
I  wanted  a  photographer.  It  worked.  In  this  way  our  work  together 
began,  and  in  four  years  came  to  fruition  in  An  American  Exodus. 

I  was  transferred  to  the  Resettlement  Administration.  You  might 
say  Dorothea  secured  my  place.  Eventually  we  were  married  and 
went  on  working  very  closely  as  a  team  under  two  separate  sub-juris- 
dictions of  the  Resettlement  Administration. 

A  year  later  I  was  transferred  to  the  Social  Security  Board.  Con- 
gress, in  passing  the  Social  Security  law,  left  farm  labor  uncovered.  In 
the  same  legislation,  Congress  mandated  the  Social  Security  Board  to 
study  the  problems  of  the  farm  laborers.  To  do  that,  they  called  me 
and  asked  if  I  would  become  a  consultant  to  the  Social  Security 
Board.  As  we  had  pretty  close  collaboration  in  the  New  Deal,  the 
Social  Security  Board  cooperated  closely  with  the  Resettlement  Ad- 
ministration and  Farm  Security.  So,  when  summer  came  around  and 
I  was  free  from  my  university  duties,  the  Social  Security  Board  sent 
me,  and  the  Resettlement  sent  Dorothea,  out  in  the  same  car  to  cross 
the  country,  back  and  forth,  Georgia  to  California. 


29  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


Young  Sharecropper  on  $5  \  Month  "Ft  rnish" 

'Hit's  a  hard  get-by.  The  rand's  ]us!  In  fer  to  hold  the  world  together. 
We  think  the  landlord  ought  to  let  the  government  have  this  land  and 
build  it  up,  but  he's  got  money  and  he  don't  believe  111  that  way.  Be- 
tween Buck  Creek  and  Whitewater  Creek  nobody  can  make  a  living." 

Neighbor  "A  piece  of  meat  in  the  house  would  like  to  scare  these  chil- 
dren of  mine  to  death.' 

MticoJi  County,  Georgia,  July  lb,  7917 


CoLtt'LE.  Born  in  Slavery 

"1  remember  when  the  Yankees  come  through,  a  whole  passel  of  'em, 
hollerin".  and  told  the  Negroes  you're  free  But  they  didn't  gel  nothin' 

cause  we  had  carried  the  best  horses  and  mules  over  to  the  gttlley." 
Plantation  with  -28  families  abandoned  in  1924  after  the  boll  weevil 
struck. 

Greene  County,  Georgia.  July  20.  loij 


Dorothea  Lange,  An  American  Exodus, 
1939. 


We  solved  the  administrative  problems.  We  were  in  different 
departments;  but  you'd  never  have  known  it,  we  worked  so  closely- 
together.  As  we  crossed  the  country,  which  we  did  twice  across  the 
southern  half  of  the  United  States,  we  saw  at  least  two  things.  One 
was  the  diversity  of  the  rural  conditions  across  the  country.  The  ma- 
chine was  the  second.  We  saw  the  impact  of  change.  Will  Alexander, 
eventually  the  director  of  the  Farm  Security,  and  a  couple  of  col- 
leagues had  put  out  a  beautiful  study  of  the  distress  on  the  planta- 
tion. We  sent  him  our  first  photographs  from  the  field.  He  said,  "We 
hadn't  seen  the  machine  before."  In  a  matter  of  a  couple  of  years, 
the  machine,  the  tractor,  had  arrived  and  we  j  ust  bumped  into  it.  We 
saw  what  a  tractor,  a  four-row  planter,  and  a  four-row  cultivator 
could  do  to  dislodge  sharecroppers. 

An  American  Exodus,  representing  a  "revolutionary  combination 
of  words  and  pictures,"  was  produced  by  the  close  collaboration  of  a 
photographer  and  a  social  scientist.  Neither  Dorothea  Lange  nor  I 
could  have  produced  An  American  Exodus  alone.  Beyond  that,  "the 
revolutionary  combination  of  words  and  pictures"  was  enhanced  by 
obtaining  informally  the  collaboration  of  many  of  the  persons  pho- 
tographed who  on  the  spot  spoke  to  us  from  their  inmost  depths. 

I  drove  the  car  and  she  did  the  looking.  When  she  said  to  stop,  I 
stopped.  I  let  her  out  of  the  car,  parked  it,  and  usually  got  out  too. 
What  she  said  was,  "I  wrap  around  myself  a  cloak  of  invisibility." 


30  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


If  I  COULD  GET  ME  A  PIECE  OF  LAND  ID  GO  TO  DIGGIN  IT  WITH  MY  HANDS  *  LOTS  OF  THINGS  ARE  GOIN  ON  NOW  THAT  DIDNT  USETER  DO  *  I  COME  FROM 
TEXAS  AND  DONT  OWE  OR  OWN  A  THIN  DIME  BACK  THERE  *  HE'S  ALWAYS  BEEN  A  FARMER  AND  HE  CANT  GET  A  FARM  *  THAT  DROUGHT  PUT  THE  FIXINS  TO 
US     *    WE  DRIED  OUT  THERE  THREE  YEARS  HAND  RUNNIN    *     THAT  YEAR  THE  SPRING  COME  AND  FOUND  US  BLANK    *      HERE'S  WHAT  I  THINK  ON  IT— THE  TRAC 


TOR'S  AS   STRONG   AGAINST   US   AS  THE    DROUGHT    *     WE  MADE  A  DOLLAR  WORKIN   FROM   DAWN  TILL  YOU   JUST  CANT  SEE    *    THE  MONEY  MEN  GOT  THAT  COUN 


TRY— THEY  RUN  IT  WHAT  I  MEAN  *  THEM  MEN  THAT'S  DOIN  THE  TALKIN  FOR  THE  COUNTRY  IS  THE  BIG  LANDOWNERS  *  THE  FARMALL  IS  KNOCKING  OUR 
RENTERS  OUT  OF  THEIR  PLACES  AND  SCATTERING  THEM  ALL  OVER  *  THEY  DONT  STOP  TO  SHUT  THE  DOOR  THEY  JUST  WALK  OUT  *  HE  CLAIMS  TRACTORS  IS 
RIGHT  SMART  CHEAPER  *  THEY  TAKE  THE  REDUCTION  MONEY  AND  KICK  US  OFF  AND  BUY  FARMALLS  *  WE  CAN  WORK  THIS  LAND  AS  GOOD  AS  ANYBODY.  WE 
WAS  RAISED  ON  IT  *  ALL  WE  GOT  TO  START  WITH  IS  A  FAMILY  OF  KIDS  *  I  HEERED  TELL  OF  THIS  HERE  IRRIGATION,  PLENTY  OF  WATER  AND  PLENTY  TO  EAT 
*  SEEMS  LIKE  PEOPLE  HERE  IS  CRAZY  ABOUT  CALIFORNIA— THEY  GO  IN  DROVES  *  HE'S  GOT  THE  OREGON  iTCH  *  SON  TO  FATHER  YOU  DIDN'T  KNOW  THE 
WORLD  WAS  SO  WIDE  FATHER  TO  SON  NO,  BUT  I  KNEW  WHAT  I  WAS  GOIN  TO  HAVE  FOR  BREAKFAST  •  THIS  IS  A  HARD  LIFE  TO  SWALLOW  BUT  I  JUST  COULDNT 
SIT  BACK  THERE  AND  LOOK  TO  SOMEONE  TO  FEED  US  *  LIVIN  A  BUM'S  LIFE  SOON  MAKES  A  BUM  OUT  OF  YOU.  YOU  GET  STARTED  AND  YOU  CANT  STOP  *  MAKIN 
A  LIVIN  EVEN  THIS  KIND  OF  A  LIVIN  BEATS  STARVIN  TO  DEATH  BACK  THERE  WE  LIKE  TO  STARVE  TO  DEATH  *  NIGH  TO  NOTHIN  AS  EVER  I  SEE  *  BURNED  OUT, 
BLOWED  OUT,  EAT  OUT,  TRACTORED  OUT  *  YESSIR,  WE'RE  STARVED  STALLED  AND  STRANDED  *  I  WOULDNT  HAVE  RELIEF  NO  WAY  IT  WAS  FIXED  *  IF  YOU 
DON'T  HAVE  TO  GO  TO  THE  GOVERNMENT  MAN  FOR  WHAT  BREAD  YOU  EAT  I  LIKE  IT  BETTER  *  LOTS  OF  EM  HARP  ABOUT  THE  WPA  RELIEF  BUT  THE  BIG  PLOW  UP 
CHECK  WHAT'S  THAT  BUT  RELIEF'  *  WE  AINT  NO  PAUPERS  WE  HOLD  OURSELVES  TO  BE  WHITE  FOLKS.  WE  DONT  WANT  NO  RELIEF  BUT  WHAT  WE  DO  WANT  IS  A 
CHANST  TO  MAKE  AN  HONEST  LIVING  LIKE  WHAT  WE  WAS  RAISED  *  SHE  SAYS,  WHY  DIDNT  YOU  STAY  THERE— WHEN  I  SAYS  I  COME  FROM  TEXAS  *  WHEN  YOU 
GITS  DOWN  TO  YOUR  LAST  BEAN  YOUR  BACKBONE  AND  YOUR  NAVEL  SHAKES  DICE  TO  SEE  WHICH  GITS  IT  *  YOU  EAT  IT  UP  FASTER  THAN  YOU  CAN  MAKE  IT  *  I 
HAVENT  NOTHIN  TO  GO  BACK  TO  *  I  COULDNT  DO  NOTHIN  IF  I  WENT  BACK  *  THIS  LIFE  IS  SIMPLICITY  BOILED  DOWN  *  A  PICTURE  OF  ME  CAINT  DO  NO 
HARM  +  WE  TRUST  IN  THE  LORD  AND  DONT  EXPECT  MUCH  *  WE  GOT  ENOUGH  TROUBLES  WITHOUT  GOING  COMMUNIST  *  CHRIST  ILL  DIE  BEFORE  ILL  SAY 
I'D  BRING  UP  A   BUNCH   OF   KIDS   LIVING  THIS  WAY  *     I'VE  WROTE   BACK  THAT  WE'RE  WELL  AND  SUCH   AS  THAT,  BUT  I  NEVER  HAVE  WROTE  THAT  WE  LIVE  IN  A  TENT 


*    THEY   SAY  WE  TOOK   WORK   CHEAP   BUT   YOU'VE   GOT  TO  TAKE  WORK  CHEAP  AND  WE  DIDN'T  WANT  NO  RELIEF    *     WHEN  THEY  GET  THROUGH  WORKING  YOU  THEY 


WANT  YOU  OUT  OF  THE  WAY    *    I  WAS  BORN  AND  RAISED  A   100  PERCENT  AMERICAN    I   FOUGHT  AND  I'M   PROUD  OF  ITTHINKIN  I  WAS  HELPIN  THE  GOVERNMENT  AND 


MY  FAMILY  *  WE  LIVE  MOST  ANYWHERE  IN  GENERAL  WHERE  THERE'S  WORK  *  TAINT  HARDLY  FAIR  THEY  HOLLER  THAT  WE  AINT  CITIZENS  BUT  THEIR  FRUIT 
WOULD  ROT  IF  WE  DIDNT  COME  *  BROTHER,  HIT'S  PICK  SEVENTY  FIVE  CENT  COTTON  OR  STARVE  *  BROTHER,  HIT'S  PICK  SEVENTY  FIVE  CENT  COTTON  OR 
ELSE  *  MY  BOYS  ARE  AMERICAN  CITIZENS.  IF  WAR  WAS  DECLARED  THEY'D  HAVE  TO  FIGHT  NO  MATTER  WHERE  THEY  WAS.  I  DONT  SEE  WHY  WE  CANT  BE 
CITIZENS  BECAUSE  WE  MOVE  AROUND  WITH  THE   FRUIT  TRYIN  TO  MAKE  A  LIVIN   *     A   HUMAN   BEING   HAS  A   RIGHT  TO  STAND  LIKE  A  TREE  HAS  A  RIGHT  TO  STAND 

Dorothea  Lange  and  Paul  Schuster 
Taylor.  End  paper,  An  American 
Exodus,  1939. 


Dorothea  Lange,  An  American  Exodus, 

1939. 


31  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


Dorothea  Lange,  An  American  Exodus, 

1939. 


32  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


Psychologically,  that's  how  she  took  care  of  herself.  When  I  got  out 
of  the  car  I  think  I  helped  her.  We  would  usually  just  saunter  up  to 
people.  Usually  I  walked  a  couple  of  steps  ahead  of  her,  let  her  come 
up  behind  with  her  camera.  In  those  days  it  was  a  Rolleiflex,  so  there 
it  was  carried  amidships.  Usually  I  would  open  the  conversation.  I 
had  to  learn  how  to  approach  people  whom  I  didn't  know  and  who 
didn't  know  me.  I  learned  that  the  best  way  to  approach  someone  was 
to  start  with  a  question  that  would  sound  natural  from  a  stranger. 
For  example,  "Can  you  tell  me  how  far  it  is  to  the  next  town?"  The 
answer  didn't  make  any  difference.  When  Dorothea  was  with  me,  I 
could  pull  out  my  notebook  more  easily.  I  think  I  diverted  their  atten- 
tion from  Dorothea  and  attracted  it  to  myself  and  she  was  able  to 
start  working  without  raising  a  question.  If,  after  a  while,  they  raised 
a  question,  and  they  not  infrequently  did,  we  would  explain  that  the 
government  had  sent  us  out  to  talk  with  the  people  of  the  country 
and  get  the  story  of  how  things  looked  from  their  point  of  view,  and 
then  tell  it  to  Washington. 

Dorothea  was  not  dependent  upon  me,  however.  She  could  do  it 
herself,  as  "Migrant  Mother"  showed  us  how  very  well  she  could.  In 
fact,  I've  always  remembered  that  I  was  never  around  when  she  took 
her  most  famous  pictures.  But  I  don't  want  any  inferences  drawn 
from  that. 

I  think  being  a  woman  was  a  great  advantage  to  Dorothea.  I  think 
it  made  approaches  to  people  easier;  she  stirred  up  less  resistance 
from  people.  When  she  was  alone,  she'd  walk  up  to  them,  never  ag- 
gressive. If  she  detected  any  resistance,  she  folded  the  camera  down, 
in  effect  saying,  "Oh,  I'm  not  going  to  photograph  you."  And  I'm  sure 
that,  not  infrequently,  since  I  saw  it  sometimes  when  I  was  there,  hav- 
ing closed  it,  after  a  while  when  the  atmosphere  changed,  she  would 
open  it  again  and  she'd  get  her  photograph. 

Dorothea  used  a  Rolleiflex  a  great  deal,  followed  by  the  Hassel- 
blad,  which  was  similar  to  the  Rolleiflex.  Later,  she  used  a  4  x  5 
Eastman  Kodak  and  later,  35  mm  cameras,  a  Nikon  and  Leica,  I 
think.  She  didn't  use  a  35  mm  camera  at  first  because  the  quality  of 
the  film  was  not  good  enough  to  permit  the  enlargement  she  wanted. 
It  was  too  grainy.  As  the  film  improved,  she  turned  more  and  more  to 
the  35  mm  camera. 

One  of  the  things  Dorothea  said  to  me  was  that  originally  she 
destroyed  the  negatives  that  were  defective.  Later,  she  changed  her 
method.  The  trouble  was  that  she  found  that  when  the  whole  nega- 
tive was  defective,  there  was  so  often  a  part  of  it  which  apparently 
had  moved  her  to  take  the  photograph.  She  would  enlarge  that  par- 
ticular part  and  get  something  akin  to  what  she  wanted  in  the  origi- 
nal taking  of  the  photograph.  That  was  something  that  she  learned 
of  her  own  methods. 

I  think  she  did  a  minimum  of  talking,  the  least  she  had  to  do.  She 
listened  mostly,  I'm  sure,  and  it  was  her  attitude,  this  "cloak  of  invis- 
ibility," which  protected  her,  drew  them  out,  and  reassured  them. 
She  came  away  with  what  they  said.  I  remember  very  little  of  what 
she  said.  The  endpapers  of  An  American  Exodus  are  words.  That's 
what  they  said.  A  major  part  of  those  were  said  to  her.  What  she  usu- 
ally did,  if  I  was  close  by  (I  had  a  pocket  notebook)  was  sidle  over  to 
me  and  say  what  they  had  said  to  her  down  the  hill  from  me.  When 
asked  about  her  ability  to  do  this,  I  have  answered,  "In  my  experi- 
ence, her  ear  was  as  good  as  her  eye." 


33  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


I  don't  know  when  the  idea  of  a  book  came  into  our  minds.  I  think 
it  was  Dorothea's  idea.  We  had  too  many  children  around  to  work  in 
peace  and  privacy.  This  was  in  the  Depression  when  you  could  rent 
an  apartment  for  fifteen  dollars.  So,  about  a  half  a  mile  from  our 
house,  she  rented  a  third  floor  apartment.  The  reason  she  wanted  an 
apartment  was  so  that  she  could  lay  the  photographs  out  on  the  floor 
and  see  which  should  be  paired  together  on  opposing  pages.  Doro- 
thea wanted  themes  because  she  believed  that  photographs  can  have 
relationships  with  each  other,  and  in  their  relationships  tell  far  more 
than  the  isolated  prints.  That's  how  the  book  was  prepared.  We  tied 
the  words  and  documentation  to  the  photographs. 

The  book  has  two  impacts.  Of  course,  the  large  growers  in  Califor- 
nia didn't  welcome  our  program  for  sanitary  camps  for  migrants. 
What  they  wanted  was  federal  money  out  of  the  Treasury  at  a  low 
rate  of  interest  so  they  could  build  the  camps  and  have  control  over 
them.  One  day  a  grower  came  to  my  office  and  wanted  to  know  how 
big  the  camps  were  to  be.  I  said  I  thought  they  were  to  be  two  hun- 
dred families  per  camp.  He  said  that  was  too  many  because  the  work- 
ers were  likely  to  organize.  And  then  so  many  of  the  newspapers, 
apparently  from  the  far  left,  called  me  names  for  proposing  camps 
for  migrants  which  would  be  run  by  the  growers.  And  at  one  of  the 
first  of  two  camps,  some  people  came  in  with  growers'  interest  who 
said  they  were  not  going  to  allow  any  organization;  they  would  come 
in  there  if  necessary  with  guns.  Now  the  rest  of  the  impact,  which 
kind  of  deflates  me.  We  were  coming  out  of  the  Depression  with  news 
of  the  outbreak  of  war  in  Europe  and  the  possibility  that  we  might 
become  involved.  People  had  had  enough  of  the  Depression.  So,  when 
the  publishers  made  it  into  a  book,  it  went  out  of  print  in  no  time  flat. 
I  bought  twelve  copies  myself  at  one  dollar  apiece.  So  you  see,  the 
impact  may  or  may  not  depend  on  the  merits  of  the  book.  The  merits 
of  the  book  may  look  different  to  different  people  at  different  times. 
A  revised  edition  of  An  American  Exodus  published  in  1969  is  out 
of  print. 

One  thing  that  strikes  me  is  the  relatively  minor  participation  by 
historians,  political  scientists,  economists,  psychologists,  and  geolo- 
gists in  photography.  Anthropologists  appreciate  photographs  more 
than  the  sociologists  because  the  early  anthropologists  in  this  coun- 
try realized  that  there  were  only  a  few  Indians  left  who  were  tribal 
in  character;  and  it's  now  or  never.  So  they  took  a  camera  along  with 
them.  Besides,  the  Indians  didn't  read  or  write.  So,  you  couldn't  rely 
on  that  kind  of  documentation.  If  you  wanted  to  show  what  they 
looked  like,  dressed  like,  you  had  to  take  a  camera  along.  The  anthro- 
pologists from  then  right  down  to  the  present  time  have  been  per- 
haps the  leaders  in  the  social  sciences  and  humanities  in  the  use  of 
photography.  Of  course,  one  of  the  obstacles,  not  a  conscious  ob- 
stacle, but  the  foot  dragging,  is  my  own  profession.  We  weren't  raised 
to  use  visual  images  for  our  work  in  economics.  Text,  and  later  on, 
statistics.  But  photographs?  Well,  anthropologists  used  them  per- 
haps, but  hardly  anybody  else.  There  was  never  one  person  at  the  top 
of  the  field,  at  the  top  university,  that  ever  hinted  to  me  that  pho- 
tography would  be  a  good  source  of  documentation. 

Photography  is  a  language.  So  are  words.  And  if  you  put  these  two 
together,  thats'  fine.  The  geographer  has  a  language— maps.  A  geolo- 
gist uses  maps  too.  And  the  statistician  uses  numbers.  The  specializa- 


34  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


tion  of  each  is  not  hard  to  understand;  and  there  can  be  considerable 
enrichment  by  joining  as  many  languages  as  are  relevant. 

You  see,  photography  is  a  language.  So  are  words.  And  if  you  put 
these  two  together,  that's  fine.  The  geographer  has  a  language — it's 
maps.  A  geologist  uses  maps  too.  And  the  statistician  uses  numbers. 
The  specialization  of  each  is  not  hard  to  understand;  and  there  can 
be  considerable  enrichment  by  joining  as  many  languages  as  are 
relevant. 

Dorothea  Lange  herself  gave  serious  thought  to  the  place  of  pho- 
tography within  the  humanities.  Under  the  title  "Documentary  Pho- 
tography" she  made  this  contribution  to  Ansel  Adams'  1940  book 
A  Pageant  of  Photography: 

Documentary  photography  records  the  social  scene  of  our  time.  It 
mirrors  the  present  and  documents  the  future.  Its  focus  is  man  in 
his  relation  to  mankind.  It  records  his  customs  at  work,  at  war,  at 
play,  or  his  round  of  activities  through  twenty-four  hours  of  the 
day,  the  cycles  of  the  seasons,  or  the  span  of  a  life.  It  portrays  his 
institutions — family,  church,  government,  political  organizations, 
social  clubs,  labor  unions.  It  shows  not  merely  their  facades,  but 
seeks  to  reveal  the  manner  in  which  they  function,  absorb  the  life, 
hold  the  loyalty,  and  influence  the  behavior  of  human  beings.  It 
is  concerned  with  methods  of  work  and  the  dependence  of  work- 
men on  each  other  and  on  their  employers.  It  is  preeminently 
suited  to  build  a  record  of  change.  Advancing  technology  raises 
the  standards  of  living,  creates  unemployment,  changes  the  faces 
of  cities  and  of  the  agricultural  landscape.  The  evidence  of  these 
trends — the  simultaneous  existence  of  the  past,  present,  and  the 
portent  of  the  future — is  conspicuous  in  old  and  new  forms,  old 
and  new  customs,  on  every  hand.  Documentary  photography 
stands  on  its  own  merits  and  has  validity  by  itself.  A  single  photo- 
graphic print  may  be  "news,"  a  "portrait,"  "art,"  or  "documen- 
tary"— any  of  these,  all  of  them,  or  none.  Among  the  tools  of 
social  sciences — graphs,  statistics,  maps,  and  text — documenta- 
tion by  photograph  now  is  assuming  place.  Documentary  photog- 
raphy invites  and  needs  participation  by  amateurs  as  well  as  by 
professionals.  Only  through  the  interested  work  of  amateurs  who 
choose  themes  and  follow  them  can  documentation  by  the  camera 
of  our  age  and  our  complex  society  be  intimate,  pervasive,  and 
adequate. 

Dorothea  is  known  for  her  photographs  outside  the  family.  She 
photographed  also  within  the  family.  Some  people,  with  their  cam- 
eras, begin  to  see  when  they  dash  out  the  front  door,  away  from 
home.  She  could  see  within  and  around  the  home  as  well  as  she  could 
see  outside.  Do  you  know  To  A  Cabin?  That's  where  the  family 
gathered  under  special  circumstances.  She  took  pictures  of  the  fam- 
ily and  friends  on  the  beach,  swimming,  in  various  forms  of  attire, 
running  up  and  down  the  beach;  and  the  dogs  running  up  and  down 
the  beach  with  them.  So  you  had  a  photograph,  a  record  of  the 
family  on  the  beach  of  the  Pacific  Ocean,  at  play.  When  the  book 
came  out,  it  was  reviewed  under  the  title,  "a  very  different  Dorothea 
Lange."  Photographers  tend  to  become  labeled  by  some  of  their 
important  works  so  that  the  vision  appears  to  be  limited,  in  a  way, 
almost  as  though  by  horses'  blinders. 


35  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


Dorothea  Lange,  To  a  Cabin,  1973. 


Dorothea  Lange,  To  a  Cabin,  1973. 


36  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


Dorothea  Lange,  Paul  Taylor,  To  a 
Cabin,  1973. 


Dorothea  Lange,  To  a  Cabin,  1973. 


37  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


The  land  on  which  those  cabins  are  sited  was  taken  over  by  the 
State  Park  Department.  The  State  purchased  it  from  the  landowners. 
We  were  simply  tenants,  along  with  fifteen  or  sixteen  others.  And,  for 
whatever  reason,  the  Park  Department  decided  it  wanted  to  raze 
those  cabins.  She  showed  what  she  saw,  the  value  of  those  cabins  to 
her  family,  by  arranging  for  the  publication  of  the  book.  Then  came 
her  final  illness  and  she  couldn't  do  it.  But  she  left  the  photographs 
behind.  Margaretta  Mitchell,  cooperating,  produced  To  A  Cabin  with 
her  own  and  Dorothea's  photographs,  separated,  not  mixed;  differ- 
ent, and  yet  in  perfect  harmony. 

The  people  of  California  voted  a  commission  to  examine  the  pres- 
ervation of  the  coastline  of  California.  A  newspaper  man,  a  friend  of 
mine  who  didn't  know  Dorothea,  gave  the  book  to  the  chairman  of 
the  coastal  commission.  The  chairman  put  on  his  knapsack,  so  I'm 
told,  and  walked  down  to  the  cabins.  As  a  result,  the  coastal  commis- 
sion forbade  razing  the  cabins  so  long  as  it  had  jurisdiction.  Which 
means,  well,  maybe  another  year.  After  that,  who  knows?  But  at 
least  they  held  it  up. 

Photography  doesn't  need  to  be  just  an  avocation.  You  can  have  a 
purpose;  you  can  get  something  done.  I've  given  one  example,  where 
Dorothea's  To  A  Cabin  is,  for  the  time  being  at  least,  attaining  a  re- 
sult which  was  no  part  of  her  intention,  because  when  she  took  the 
photographs  she  didn't  know  that  razing  the  cabins  was  going  to  be 
proposed  by  anybody.  So,  taking  photographs,  you  never  know  when 
you're  doing  more  than  making  a  record  of  something.  You  never 
know  when  you're  really  moving  somebody  to  do  something.  Of 
course,  the  star  illustration  of  moving  somebody  to  do  something  is 
"Migrant  Mother." 

In  1936  the  pea  crop  at  Nipomo,  California  had  frozen,  and  with- 
out earnings  the  migrant  pea  pickers  literally  were  starving.  There 
was  no  employment;  there  was  no  money;  there  was  no  food;  there 
was  no  relief. 

Dorothea  had  been  out  in  the  field  in  southern  California  photo- 
graphing the  migrants.  When  she  came  up  the  coast,  she  passed 
Nipomo.  It  was  the  first  place  that  she  had  photographed  the  year 
before  when  she  became  a  member  of  my  team  for  the  Rural  Reha- 
bilitation Division  of  the  Emergency  Relief  Administration.  I  had 
taken  her  down  there.  I  didn't  know  how  they  would  receive  a  photog- 
rapher. Here  they  were,  in  distress,  at  the  bottom  of  the  social  and 
economic  ladder.  So  I  had  assigned  one  of  my  staff  assistants  to  carry 
her  camera  equipment.  I  told  both  of  them,  "I  don't  care  if,  on  the  first 
day,  you  don't  take  a  single  photograph.  I  don't  want  any  untoward 
events  to  take  place.  I  don't  know  how  the  people  will  receive  a  pho- 
tographer." Well,  in  no  time  flat,  Dorothea  had  her  camera  out  and 
was  photographing  the  people.  There  was  not  a  single  incident.  A 
year  later,  she  drove  past  Nipomo.  She  got  twenty  miles  north.  Then 
something  inside  her  moved  her  to  return.  So,  she  turned  the  car 
around,  went  back  that  twenty  miles,  and  went  into  the  original  pea 
camp  that  she'd  known.  The  result  was  six  negatives,  one  of  them 
"Migrant  Mother." 

The  migrant  mother's  distress  was  written  all  over  her  face  and 
the  postures  of  her  children.  I've  asked  Dorothea  what  she  said,  and 
this  is  somewhat  unusual.  Dorothea  did  not  recall  the  words  of  the 
conversation,  but  she  knew  the  conditions.  They  had  sold  the  tires 
off  the  car  in  order  to  get  a  few  dollars  for  food. 

38  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


Dorothea  Lange,  Migrant  Mother, 
Nipomo,  California,  1936. 
The  Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


39  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


2St<XA*».     -*U«V«C/ 


Magazine  cover,  Bohemia  Venezolana, 
10  May  1964. 

Diana  Thorne,  Spanish  Mother,  The 
Terror  of  1938,  lithograph,  1939. 
The  Museum  of  Modern  Art. 

Malik,  Back  Page  of  Black  Panthers' 
Newspaper,  1973.  Courtesy  of  Paul 
Taylor. 


POVERTY  IS  A  CRIME,  AND  OUR  PEOPLE  ARE 
THE  VICTIMS. 


40  Paul  Schusteb  Taylor 


Dorothea  took  prints  over  to  the  San  Francisco  News  as  soon  as 
she  could  develop  the  negatives  and  make  the  prints,  which  took,  I 
suppose,  a  day  or  two.  The  News  ran  an  editorial  on  the  starving  pea 
pickers  and  spoke  of  the  chance  visit  of  a  government  photographer, 
unnamed,  of  course.  Nobody  named  a  photographer  in  those  days. 
The  paper  produced  two  photographs,  neither  one  "Migrant  Mother," 
but  both  of  her  and  her  children.  It  notified  the  Relief  Administra- 
tion. In  no  time,  food  was  on  the  way  from  southern  California  to  the 
Nipomo  pea  pickers. 

A  good  many  years  later,  a  woman,  through  an  attorney,  raised  ob- 
jections when  she  saw  the  spreading  use  of  the  photograph  of  herself. 
It  hurt  Dorothea  very  much.  What  appears  to  have  taken  place  is 
that  the  woman  married  a  man  of  some  means  and,  I  suppose,  didn't 
like  the  photograph  of  her  face  and  her  distress  spread  all  over.  I 
don't  think  she  was  ever  able  to  collect  any  money.  She  never  tried 
further  with  Dorothea.  In  fact,  I  don't  think  she  tried  directly  with 
Dorothea,  because  Dorothea  got  the  word  secondhand  from  a  pub- 
lisher. 

What  I'm  doing  is  telling  you  that  if  you  want  to  move  people,  pho- 
tographs surely  have  the  power  to  do  it.  I  speak  as  one  who  uses 
words  most  of  the  time.  Sometimes  I  think  I  get  results;  sometimes  I 
think  I  move  people;  sometimes  I  think  I  don't.  Photographs  have  the 
power  to  move  people  beyond  words. 

That  was  the  first  effect  of  the  pictures.  The  next  effect  was  to 
spread  reproductions  of  "Migrant  Mother"  almost  around  the  world. 
Dorothea  said,  "That  photograph  seems  to  have  a  life  of  its  own." 

Initially  I  likened  the  photograph  to  a  madonna  and  child  in  the 
tradition  of  Raphael.  Now  I  add  that  "Migrant  Mother"  has  entered 
the  realm  of  folklore. 

About  1960,  the  Latin  American  magazine  Bohemia  reproduced 
"Migrant  Mother"  on  its  cover.  In  doing  so,  Bohemia  took  the  liberty, 
first  of  turning  the  head  of  one  of  the  children  around  to  show  its  face, 
next  of  coloring  the  original  black  and  white-photograph,  and  finally 
of  giving  no  credit  to  the  photographer.  I  think  it's  okay.  It  shows  real 
approval  of  the  "Migrant  Mother."  I'm  pleased  with  the  observation. 
It  shows  how  widely  the  photograph  is  seen  and  appreciated. 

Confirmation  came  about  two  years  ago  in  California.  The  Black 
Panthers  newspaper  reproduced,  full  page,  its  own  version  of  what 
unmistakably  had  begun  as  "Migrant  Mother."  It  was  hand  drawn 
in  black  and  white,  showing  frizzy  hair  and  the  eyes  of  a  black  wo- 
man. Once  again,  the  criteria  of  folklore  in  song  and  verse  were  met 
in  this  photograph.  Since  it  belongs  to  the  folk,  anyone  is  at  liberty  to 
reproduce  it  without  crediting  its  original  source,  to  do  so  with  varia- 
tions as  desired,  retaining  only  recognizable  essentials  of  the  origi- 
nal. "Migrant  Mother"  has  entered  the  realm  of  folklore,  along  with 
its  other  places  in  the  areas  of  documentation  and  art. 


41  Paul  Schuster  Taylor 


Gjon 
Mili 


Gjon  Mili  was  born  in  Kerce,  Southern 
Albania,  and  spent  his  boyhood  in  Ru- 
mania. He  came  to  America  when  he 
was  eighteen  in  1923,  and  received  his 
B.S.  in  Electrical  Engineering  from  the 
Massachusetts  Institute  of  Technology 
in  1927.  He  was  a  graduate  student  with 
Westinghouse  Electric  and  Manufac- 
turing Co.  in  1928,  and  then  a  lighting 
research  engineer  with  the  Westing- 
house  Lamp  Division,  from  1928-1938. 
He  has  written  numerous  technical 
papers  on  his  researches  in  light 
projection,  optics,  and  photography.  He 
developed  the  biplane  filament  lamp, 
the  brightest  tungsten  light  source 
then  available.  He  has  also  done  con- 
siderable work  interpreting  photomet- 
ric concepts  by  means  of  photographs 
of  beam  patterns,  filament  images,  and 
lighted  glassware.  Between  1930  and 
1935  he  developed  the  lighting  tech- 
nique now  used  universally  in  color 
photography  with  high  intensity  incan- 
descent and  photoflash  lamps.  He  has 
also  been  involved  since  1938  in  experi- 
mental and  commercial  high-speed 
flash  photography,  in  cooperation  with 
Dr.  H.  E.  Edgerton  of  the  Massachusetts 
Institute  of  Technology.  Mili's  career 
as  a  professional  photographer  began 
when  his  photographs  of  the  tennis 
champion  Bobby  Riggs  in  action  were 
published  in  Life  Magazine  (September 
16,  1938) ;  since  then  his  by-line  has  ap- 
peared constantly  in  the  pages  of  Life. 
In  the  fall  of  1969  he  gave  a  series  of 
lectures  at  Yale  University  on  "The 
Photo  Essay;"  and  he  taught  at  the 
Summer  Art  Project  sponsored  by 
Sarah  Lawrence  College  at  La  Coste, 
France,  during  1972,  1973  and  1974.  He 
is  at  present  an  instructor  in  the  "Prin- 
ciples of  Photography"  at  Hunter  Col- 
lege, New  York,  where  he  has  taught 
since  1973. 


42  Gjon  Mili 


Fifty-two  years  ago  when  I  started  learning  this  business — and  I  find 
that  I  am  still  learning — photography  was  a  new  course  at  M.I.T. 
I  enrolled  in  it  out  of  curiosity.  My  first  experiment  was  to  photo- 
graph the  southwest  corner  of  the  Institute  building  through  the 
laboratory  window.  It  was  a  bright  clear  day,  the  time  1:  30  p.m.,  the 
date  October  9, 1924. 1  used  a  4x5  par  speed  portrait  cut  film  and  the 
exposure  was  half  a  second,  the  aperture  f/16.  Translated  into  pres- 
ent terminology,  the  film  speed  would  approximate  ASA  2,  as  com- 
pared to  modern  films  which  are  often  several  hundred  times  faster. 
Making  use  of  the  increased  film  speeds,  on  the  one  hand,  and  arti- 
ficial light  sources  especially  designed  for  taking  pictures  indoors,  on 
the  other,  resulted  in  an  enormously  expanded  interest  and  activity 
in  photography.  Two  powerful  light  sources  of  very  short  duration, 
namely  the  aluminum  foil  photoflash  lamp  and  the  electronic  flash, 
commonly  known  as  strobe,  which  came  into  being  in  1931  and  1937 
respectively,  brought  a  new  dimension  to  the  photography  of  sub- 
jects in  motion. 


I  was  very  friendly,  very  close,  to  a  fam- 
ily which  was  musical,  and  this  was 
the  elder  daughter  of  the  house  play- 
ing Bach  on  her  cello.  It  was  my  first 
experiment  in  recording  a  moving  sub- 
ject with  aluminum  foil  photoflash 
lamps,  newly  arrived  from  Germany 
where  they  had  been  invented  in  1931. 
The  picture  was  taken  by  firing  one 
lamp  during  the  open  and  close  shutter 
movement.  At  that  time,  since  I  was  a 
student  in  photography  and  I  read 
everything  and  saw  everything  that 
was  being  done,  I  was  strictly  a  Wes- 
tonian.  The  creed  was  that  photography 
was  a  way  of  communicating— I  don't 
want  to  use  the  word  art— and  you  com- 
municate something  novel  through  tex- 
ture, and  it  is  the  contrast  between  the 
adjacent  areas  that  gives  you  the  shock 
and  the  impact.  Well  now,  I  love  this, 
and  I've  kept  it  all  these  years,  because, 
I  suppose,  I  was  romantically  attached, 
not  to  the  girl,  but  to  the  idea  of 
music.  I  found  the  photograph  very 
satisfying,  but  I  kept  wishing  it  was 
sharper.  This  necessity  for  sharpness 
of  detail,  which  is  after  all  the  prime 
requisite  for  photographic  quality,  led 
shortly  to  the  development  of  synchro- 
nizers. These  made  possible  photoflash 
exposures  of  1/100  to  1/250  of  a  second 
duration.  The  portrait  of  a  laughing 
fellow  engineer,  my  first  attempt  in  the 
use  of  a  synchronizer,  shows  a  distinct 
improvement  in  capturing  a  full  laugh 
without  blurring  or  loss  of  detail. 


Margaret  Aue  playing  cello,  1931. 


Between  1928  and  1929 1  was  a  lighting  research  engineer  with  the 
Westinghouse  Lamp  Division.  Then  in  1937 1  came  to  give  a  lecture  at 
M.I.T.  before  a  symposium  of  the  engineering  societies.  I  was  asked  to 
speak  about  existing  light  sources  in  photography.  The  other  speaker 
on  that  occasion  was  Dr.  Harold  E.  Edgerton  of  M.I.T.;  he  talked  about 
his  recent  development  of  an  electronic  flash,  with  the  remarkably 
short  duration  of  1/100,000  of  a  second,  which  had  allowed  him  to 
make  some  extraordinary  photographs. 

After  the  meeting  he  said,  "Come,  I  want  to  talk  to  you."  Back  in 
his  office  he  asked,  "What  can  we  do  with  this  light  source,  from  your 


43  Gjon  Mili 


Man  laughing,  1931. 


point  of  view?"  I  said,  "Give  me  ten  times  the  light,  and  I  quit  West- 
inghouse' "  Professor  Edgerton  agreed  to  furnish  me  with  a  battery 
of  his  lights  to  test  their  use  in  actual  commerce.  You  see,  by  this  time 
Life  had  been  created.  For  the  previous  three  or  four  years  I  had  been 
a  consultant  in  establishing  the  techniques  for  color  and  flash  photog- 
raphy I  even  had  the  run  of  Steichen's  studio.  Every  time  Steichen 
had  a  problem  in  lighting  he  picked  up  the  phone  and  said  come  over 
and  how  do  we  resolve  this  or  that.  I  was  fortunate  to  have  started 
early  enough  in  photography  to  have  gotten  the  basic  background 
for  resolving  these  problems.  Well,  six  months  later,  I  had  five  times 
the  light  from  Edgerton  and  we  had  an  assist  from  Agfa.  Agfa  put  out 
a  film  the  first  super  pan  film,  which  was  three  times  as  fast  as  any- 
thing'that  we  had.  Agfa  took  it  in  one  jump  to  ASA  32.  Well,  I  was  in 
business.  I  spent  about  six  months  doing  experimental  photographs, 
and  then  I  went  to  Life. 


44  Gjon  Mili 


Bobby  Riggs,  1938. 


Don  McNeil,  1940. 


September  4, 1938;  my  first  assignment 
from  Life:  Bobby  Riggs,  the  tennis 
champion.  Photographs  of  his  three 
strokes:  serve,  forehand  and  backhand. 
When  these  pictures  were  published 
everybody  was  startled  to  see  the  ball 
stopped  sharp  in  mid-air.  Notice  the 
contortions  of  the  muscles.  But  now  I 
find  this  photograph  weak,  dated;  the 
ball  appears  inactive. 

Two  years  later  I  photographed  Riggs' 
successor,  Don  McNeil,  and  got  a 
proper  shot  where  body,  facial  expres- 
sion, racket,  and  ball  combine  effec- 
tively. 


45  Gjon  Mili 


Celestine  Jay  Ku,  "Blowing  Bubbles," 
1941 


Carol  Lynne,  1945. 


A  photograph  need  not  invite  reflection 
so  much  as  create  a  shock  and  arouse 
the  viewer  to  the  strangeness  of  the 
passage.  It  can  illuminate  the  truth  of 
a  gesture,  make  visual  a  musician  mak- 
ing music.  It  can  give  life  to  stone,  cap- 
ture the  wonder  of  a  child  reaching  for 
a  soap  bubble. 


In  1949  I  was  asked  to  do  Picasso's  por- 
trait for  Life.  I  said,  "All  right,  how 
do  you  get  to  him?"  Well,  I  even  asked 
Matisse.  I  said,  "Can  you  get  me  an 
introduction  to  Picasso?"  He  said,  "No 
you  have  to  go  to  the  beach."  Well  that  I 
knew  as  much.  But  on  my  way  through 
Paris  to  the  Riviera,  I  stopped  to  meet 
one  of  his  nephews,  Javier  Vilate,  a 
young  painter.  I  spent  an  evening  with 
him  and  one  thing  he  said  struck  a  re- 
sponsive chord  in  my  mind :  "My  uncle 
says,  'If  you  want  to  draw,  you  must 
shut  your  eyes  and  sing.'  "  That  went 
through  my  mind  all  the  way  from 
Paris  to  the  Riviera.  I  thought,  why  not 
draw  in  the  dark,  but  with  a  light  in- 
stead of  a  pencil?  Days  later,  settled  at 
Golfe  Juan  near  the  beach  where  Pi- 
casso swam  daily,  I  observed  him  from 
a  distance  for  a  full  morning.  I  got  the 
routine  of  his  movements  precisely. 
The  next  day  when  he  was  about  to 
leave,  and  I  could  tell,  I  just  dropped 
right  in  his  way  . . .  he's  very  short. 
I  said,  "Excuse  me,  I'm  a  photographer. 
I  would  like  to  do  your  portrait."  He 
said.  "Oh?  Go  ahead."  I  said,  "No, 
serious,  serious."  And  at  that  point  I 
confronted  him  with  a  photograph, 
taken  in  darkness,  showing  a  skater's 
spread  leap  traced  with  lights  attached 
to  the  skates.  Picasso  reacted  instantly. 


46  Gjon  Mili 


Picasso's  first  attempt  at  drawing  in 
space  with  light,  1949. 


47  Gjon  Mili 


Being  able  to  make  an  image  of  your  fellow  man  in  a  way  that  is 
distinctive  and  at  the  same  time  illuminating  is  about  the  finest  thing 
that  you  can  do.  Ideally  the  candid  portrait  should  capture  a  distinc- 
tive facet  of  character  so  vividly  as  to  shock  the  viewer.  A  moment 
can  hardly  reveal  the  whole  person  but  it  can  communicate  one  of 
two  things:  the  emotional  state  of  the  subject,  or  a  dominant,  not 
necessarily  definable  expression  that  is  characteristic  of  the  person. 


I  was  on  the  French  Riviera  taking 
publicity  photographs  for  a  film.  Lady 
L,  with  Sophia  Loren  and  Paul  New- 
man. Well,  I  was  there  for  a  week  or 
two  and  you  know  you  have  to  make 
friends.  Fortunately  I  had  assistance 
from  another  photographer  who  had 
done  work  with  me.  An  Italian  boy  said, 
"Do  you  mind  if  I  follow  you?  I  want 
to  see  what  you  do."  (He  was  a  papa- 
razzo) .  I  said,  "Sure."  You  see,  Sophia 
Loren  is  Eisenstadt's  property;  we  split 
the  world  in  fiefs,  so  to  speak.  So  one 
bright  morning  at  nine,  which  was  very 
early  for  Madame,  I  just  came  out  with 
a  camera.  "What  are  you  trying  to  do?" 
she  protested,  "No,  no,  no.  Darling,  it's 
too  early  in  the  morning!"  And  her 
hand  shot  out  to  shield  her  face  from  the 
camera.  Now  truth  to  tell,  I  was  not 
sure  that  I  had  a  photograph,  but  fortu- 
nately the  teeth  and  the  eye  breaking 
through  the  open  fingers  are  enough  to 
indicate  the  rambunctious,  vital  qual- 
ity, well,  the  femaleness  of  the  lady. 


48  Gjon  Mili 


Raoul  Dufy  paints  a  church  at  Rock- 
port,  Massachusetts,  August,  1949. 

Sometimes  the  simple  matter  of  taking 
a  portrait  can  result  in  a  heartwarm- 
ing tale.  A  photograph  of  Raoul  Dufy 
painting,  which  appeared  in  Life  mag- 
azine (December  12,  1949),  was  instru- 
mental in  bringing  him  to  America, 
under  the  auspices  of  the  Arthritic 
Foundation,  to  seek  a  cure  for  his  ad- 
vanced arthritis  with  the  newly  discov- 
ered drug,  cortisone.  In  short,  his  con- 
dition improved  substantially  in  a  mat- 
ter of  months,  his  spirits  rose,  and  I 
acquired  one  fine  friend. 


49   Gjon  Mili 


Anthony  Blum,  solo,  "Dancers  at  a 
Gathering."  (Jerome  Robbins).  1969. 

The  four  consecutive  images  of  the 
dancer  performing  were  impressed  on 
the  same  frame  of  film  with  electronic 
flashes.  Fired  at  will  as  the  dance 
evolved,  they  created  this  unique, 
never-to-be-duplicated  pattern. 


Group.  "Dancers  at  a  Gathering," 
(Jerome  Robbins).  1969. 


50  Gjon  Mili 


I  had  no  particular  reason  to  start  learning  photography.  In  high 
school  I  was  living  in  Rumania  and  photography  was  really  very 
primitive.  I  remember  experimenting  with  one  of  my  friends  in  high 
school,  copying  photographs:  printing  them  from  negatives.  It  was 
a  matter  of  putting  paper  against  the  negative  on  the  window  in  the 
sun  and  doing  it  for  something  like  a  minute  or  two  before  you  had 
an  image,  and  movies  to  me  were  the  Perils  of  Pauline 

By  and  large  my  engineering  training  reduced  photography  to  an 
exercise  in  logic  and  legibility;  I  had  to  have  a  good  reason  for  making 
a  photograph  and  I  had  to  know  how  to  resolve  my  technical  prob- 
lems so  that  the  image  would  speak  clearly.  This  way  of  thinking 
made  it  easy  for  me  to  accept  Edward  Weston's  belief  that  the  camera, 
should  be  used  for  rendering  the  very  substance  and  quintessence 
of  the  thing  itself,  whether  it  be  polished  steel  or  palpitating  flesh. 
Sharply  drawn  texture  was  a  technical  necessity,  and  presenting  en- 
hanced reality,  freezing  the  moment,  seemed  sufficient  unto  itself. 
But  in  time,  I  felt  this  approach  limiting,  and  I  found  myself  doing 
more  and  more  interpretive  reporting  of  humanistic  subjects.  Little 
did  I  realize  that,  in  losing  part  of  the  contents  of  my  studio  unexpec- 
tedly through  a  fire,  I  would  gain  a  freer,  if  more  complex,  vision. 

It  was  not  until  1969,  when  I  photographed  Jerry  Robbins'  ballet 
"Dancers  at  a  Gathering,"  that  I  purposely  let  chance,  unshaped  ele- 
ments become  part  of  the  composition.  Concurrently  with  the  pre- 
cisely conceived  strobe  sequences,  which  had  become  a  trademark 
of  my  work,  I  also  registered  on  the  same  piece  of  film  the  random 
imagery  that  occurs  with  normal  lighting  when  the  camera  is  open 
for  seconds  at  a  time.  What  pleases  me  is  that  somehow  or  other, 
partly  due  to  the  ballet  sense  which  I  had  acquired  through  con- 
tinuously photographing  and  viewing  ballet,  partly  due  to  luck,  I  was 
able  to  keep  coherence  within  my  patterns.  More  often  than  not  the 
photographs  we  consider  best  seem  largely  accidental.  It  is  as  if  a 
combination  of  unforeseen  circumstances  had  joined  to  create  a 
unique  moment,  never  to  be  realized  again.  The  image  which  ensues 
still  may  not  necessarily  have  the  clarity,  the  sharpness  of  an  in- 
stantaneous image,  but  a  coherent  pattern  sometimes  spells  more 
than  sheer  reality.  In  other  words,  I  was  trying  to  poeticize  with  the 
camera.  I  always  start  with  preconceived  notions,  which  serve  as 
guideposts.  I  once  went  into  the  theatre  during  a  final  rehearsal  and 
pointed  the  camera  at  the  dancers  as  they  were  moving  with  the 
lighting,  and  opened  the  camera  for  half  a  second,  for  a  second,  to 
see  what  I  would  get.  But  what  I  did  there  was  to  move  the  camera  in 
hand,  not  hold  it  steady,  but  move  it  in  counterpoint  to  the  move- 
ment hoping  that  whenever  there  was  a  rest  in  movement  in  the  sub- 
ject, in  the  ballet,  my  hand  would  also  be  steadfast,  and  so  I  would  get 
an  occasional  sharp  image  which  would  counterbalance  the  sense  of 
movement  which  is  not  clarified  otherwise.  Experience  has  taught  me 
what  Heraclitus  knew  already:  "If  you  do  not  expect  it,  you  will  not 
find  the  unexpected,  for  it  is  hard  to  find  and  difficult."  I  often  say  to 
students  that  sometimes  it's  ambiguity  that  creates  the  photograph. 

There  is  something  about  this  which,  frankly,  defies  the  laws  of 
probability.  So  to  me  these  are  all  accidents.  I'm  not  concerned  with 
art,  really;  I'm  concerned  with  photography,  whatever  it  may  be.  I 
didn't  come  here  as  a  photographer;  I  came  here  as  a  humanist. 
Teaching  you  photography  would  be  a  failure.  How  can  you  teach 
something  that  took  me  fifty  years  to  learn  and  forget?  You  can't 
teach  that  sort  of  thing  in  life. 

51  Gjon  Mili 


Robert 
Frank 


Robert  Frank  was  born  in  Zurich, 
Switzerland,  in  1924.  He  began  to  photo- 
graph in  1942,  and  served  apprentice- 
ships with  Hermann  Eidenberg  in 
Basel,  and  Michael  Wolgensinger  in 
Zurich.  In  1947,  Frank  came  to  the 
United  States  and  worked  as  a  fashion 
photographer  for  Harper's  Bazaar,  with 
the  encouragement  of  Alexey  Brodo- 
vitch.  In  1948,  Frank  spent  six  months 
traveling  in  Bolivia  and  Peru.  Photo- 
graphs from  the  trip  were  first  pub- 
lished in  Neuf,  1952,  and  later  published 
as  the  book,  Incas  to  Indians,  with  addi- 
tional photographs  by  Werner  Bischof 
and  Pierre  Verger.  In  1953,  Frank  ac- 
companied Edward  Steichen  to  Europe 
for  a  collection  trip  leading  to  the  ex- 
hibition, "Post-War  European  Photog- 
raphers," and  in  1955  became  the  first 
European  to  receive  a  Guggenheim  Fel- 
lowship. Under  the  Guggenheim  Fel- 
lowship, Frank  traveled  and  photo- 
graphed in  the  United  States,  and 
published  Les  Americains,  with  an 
introduction  by  Alain  Bosquet  (Paris, 
1958) ,  and  The  Americans,  with  an 
introduction  by  Jack  Kerouac.  Frank 
began  filmmaking  in  1958,  and  he  re- 
cently completed  a  film  on  The  Rolling 
Stones. 


52  Robert  Frank 


I'm  just  trying  to,  as  they  say,  find  my  bearings.  But  what  shall  we 
talk  about?  I  usually  talk  about  the  weather  first.  I  live  in  Nova  Scotia 
now,  and  one  thing  it  has  done  to  me  is  I  changed  speed.  It's  a  remote 
little  village— Cape  Breton,  and  it's  very  slow.  Once  I  got  stuck  in  a 
field  with  the  truck,  and  a  guy  I  know  stopped  on  the  road  and  came 
walking  over.  He  just  looked  at  me  and  said,  "Calm  down,  Robert. 
Calm  down. "  That's  sort  of  one  change  I  felt  by  living  there,  but  I 
think  that's  a  very  important  change.  I  calmed  down. 

I  was  apprenticed  in  Switzerland  when  I  was  nineteen  or  so,  to  a 
photographer,  and  switched  to  some  others.  I  did  it  mainly  because 
I  didn't  want  to  go  into  my  father's  business.  I  had  no  Brownie,  you 
know,  or  anything.  I  never  went  to  photography  school,  but  I  was 
lucky  in  meeting  the  right  people.  In  New  York.  That's  what  New 
York  is  great  for.  You  really  meet  the  people  you  need.  You  choose 
them.  I  lived  in  New  York  for  a  long  time,  and  I  think  it  wore  me 
down.  I  didn't  want  to  fight  that  hard  anymore.  I  sort  of  ran  away.  I 
still  think  New  York  is  an  incredible  place,  and  that  I  could  go  back 
and  work  there  again,  because  in  Nova  Scotia  I  wasn't  able  to  work. 

Now  I'm  in  California,  teaching  filmmaking  for  two  months  at  the 
University  of  California  at  Davis.  I  like  that,  because  I  can  talk  about 
filmmaking  quite  easily— it's  easier  than  talking  about  photography, 
because  photography  is  sort  of  in  the  past  for  me,  and  I  always  like 
to  talk  about  what  happens  now. 

Why  did  you  leave  still  photography  to  do  film? 

It  was  logical  for  me  to  get  off  doing  still  photography  and  becoming 
a  success  at  it.  I  think  it  would  just  become  a  repeat— I  would  repeat 
myself.  I  have  found  my  style,  and  I  could  build  on  that,  and  just  sort 
of  vary  it  a  little  bit  here  and  there.  But  beyond  that,  I  don't  think 
there's  much  beyond  that.  I've  never  been  successful  at  making  films, 
really.  I've  never  been  able  to  do  it  right.  And  there's  something  ter- 
rific about  that.  There's  something  good  about  being  a  failure — it 
keeps  you  going.  I  mean,  you  look  for  it,  to  do  it  right;  and  I  felt  I 
wouldn't  spend  that  much  energy  or  that  much  effort  in  still  photog- 
raphy anymore.  Well,  you  repeat  yourself  anyhow.  There  are  a  few 
essential  ideas  that  an  artist  has,  and  you  work  with  them  all  your 
life.  I  think  you  have  to  make  a  conscious  effort  to  at  least  get  off  of 
it  a  little  bit.  You  will  always  come  back  to  it.  I  have  a  lot  of  good  ideas 
sometimes,  but  I  forget  some  of  them,  or  they  get  mixed  up  by  becom- 
ing verbalized. 

Probably  another  reason  I  moved  away  from  still  photography  is 
because  I  do  a  lot  of  things  intuitively.  I  felt  I  would  get  caught  up  in 
being  kind  of  analytical,  and  building  onto  it  and  perfecting  it.  I 
didn't  want  to  go  on.  I  didn't  want  to  hear  about  it  anymore.  As  it 
turned  out,  once  I  turned  away  from  still  photography,  everybody  got 
really  interested  in  me,  and  why  I  turned  away  from  it.  But  the  fact 
that  I  don't  do  it  anymore  has  to  do  with  my  temperament.  It  has  to  do 
with  my  curiosity.  I  believe  very  much  that  an  artist  has  to  be  very 
curious.  I  mean  about  other  things. 

As  a  still  photographer  I  wouldn't  have  to  talk  to  anyone.  I  could 
walk  around  and  not  say  anything.  You're  just  an  observer;  you  just 
walk  around,  and  there's  no  need  to  communicate.  And  so  you  feel 
that  you  don't  have  to  use  words.  Whereas  with  films  it  becomes  more 
complicated— thinking  in  long  durations,  and  keeping  up  a  kind  of 
sequence. 

53  Robert  Frank 


I  began  filmmaking  right  after  The  Americans— 1959.  This  guy 
said,  "Let's  go  down  to  Florida  with  a  camera— a  16mm  camera — and 
you  make  a  little  film  there,  like  your  photographs."  So  I  went  down 
there,  and  I  shot  about  fifteen  rolls,  about  a  half  hour's  worth  of  film. 
And  then  I  came  back  to  New  York  and  I  didn't  have  any  money  to 
develop  it,  and  I  put  it  away.  I  kept  thinking  about  what  I  had  done 
down  there,  and  it's  funny.  I  thought,  "I've  done  the  same  thing  as  I 
did  in  the  photographs.  I  photographed  the  same  scenes  and  the  same 
people."  I  have  never  developed  the  stuff.  I  just  thought  a  lot  about  it. 
It  was  a  terrific  lesson,  and  I  think  it  taught  me  that  I  didn't  want  at 
all  to  make  a  film  that  would  look  like  my  photographs— that  would 
have  any  connection  with  them.  That  was  probably  not  too  good  a  de- 
cision right  away,  because  that's  when  all  the  failures  came  march- 
ing in.  I  mean,  I  thought  I  could  work  with  actors,  which  I  couldn't. 
So  maybe  it  would  have  been  better  if  I  had  made  some  kind  of  docu- 
mentary films  in  the  beginning. 

Are  you  satisfied  with  your  failures  in  film? 

I'm  satisfied  that  I've  done  them.  I  guess  I  would  have  been  happier  if 
they  had  been  successful,  but  I  believe  very  strongly,  the  main  thing 
is  to  do  it.  I  just  looked  at  a  film  that  I'd  done  maybe  five  or  six  years 
ago.  It  was  a  film  called  Life  Raft  Earth  which  was  a  straight  docu- 
mentary on  a  demonstration  in  California,  organized  by  the  Whole 
Earth  Catalogue  people.  They  fasted  for  many  days  in  a  parking  lot. 
I  didn't  like  the  film  too  well  after  I  finished  it— I  thought  it  not  very 
well  photographed.  And  now  I  like  it  quite  a  bit.  I  thought  it  was  very 
valuable  to  me.  I'd  made  a  record  of  what  happened,  and  I  think  that 
way  it's  satisfying.  Even  a  failure  can  be  quite  important,  and  maybe 
it  will  turn  around  and  not  be  such  a  failure.  After  all,  when  the  book 
The  Americans  first  came  out,  it  wasn't  very  well  received  at  all.  They 
wouldn't  publish  it.  They  thought  it  was  terrible— anti- American, 
un-American,  dirty,  overexposed,  crooked. 

Did  you  have  the  same  experience  with  the  book  as  you  did  with  the 
film— sort  of  stepping  back  after  a  few  years  and  feeling  better  about 
it? 

No,  I  was  sure  about  the  book.  But  with  the  films,  I'm  never  sure.  Well, 
I've  made  a  film  about  the  Rolling  Stones  and  the  tour,  and  that's  a 
film  I  feel  pretty  sure  about.  I  feel  it's  true.  You  know,  when  you  do 
something,  you  have  to  feel  that.  I  knew  the  photographs  were  true. 
They  were  what  I  felt,  they  were  completely  intuitive.  There  was  no 
thinking.  That  feeling  has  stayed  with  me;  I  never  waivered  from  that. 
When  I  did  The  Americans  I  was  very  ambitious.  I  knew  I  wanted 
to  do  a  book,  and  I  was  deadly  serious  about  it,  and  somehow  things 
j  ust  happened  right.  It  was  the  first  time  I  had  seen  this  country,  and 
it  was  the  right  mood.  I  had  the  right  influences— I  knew  Walker's 
photographs,  I  knew  what  I  didn't  want,  and  then  that  whole  enor- 
mous country  sort  of  coming  against  my  eyes.  It  was  a  tremendous 
experience,  and  I  worked,  but  it  came  naturally  to  show  what  I  felt, 
seeing  those  faces,  those  people,  the  kind  of  hidden  violence.  The 
country  at  that  time— the  McCarthy  period— I  felt  it  very  strongly. 


54  Robert  Frank 


Walker  Evans,  Outdoor  Advertising 
Sign  near  Baton  Rouge,  Louisiana, 
1935. 


Robert  Frank,  Covered  Car,  Long 
Beach,  California,  The  Americans,  1959. 


There  were  a  lot  of  juke-boxes  in  The  Americans.  Were  they  an  inten- 
tional symbol  of  the  fifties? 

I  guess  it  was  something  new  that  I  had  never  seen,  really,  and  I  was 
impressed  with  that.  I  think  I  like  pictures  that  would  convey  a  sound. 
Maybe  it  has  something  to  do  with  that.  You  would  look  at  the  photo- 
graphs, and  maybe  you  would  hear  the  sound  come  out.  I  don't  know, 
but  probably  it  was  like  a  symbol  that  I  saw  over  and  over  again.  I 
like  the  picture  that  has  the  television  set  in  it.  I  think  I  always  like 
pictures  that  have  that  element  in  it — that  you  would  hear  the  sound, 
or  imagine  the  sound. 

Somebody  asked  me  the  other  day  why  I  never  talked  about  what 
happened  to  me  on  that  trip.  I  never  really  did,  and  it  was  sort  of 


55  Robert  Frank 


curious  that  I  never  talked  about  it,  so  I  told  them  a  few  things.  Like 
in  McGee,  Arkansas,  you  know,  they  arrested  me.  I  was  driving  early 
in  the  morning  on  a  little  country  road,  and  the  cops  came,  stopped 
my  car,  and  said,  "What  are  you  doing?"  I  said,  "I'm  on  a  Guggen- 
heim Fellowship,  and  I'm  traveling  around  photographing  the  coun- 
try." The  guy  said,  "Guggenheim?  Who  is  that?"  So  they  pulled  me 
in.  They  said,  "We  got  to  arrest  you,"  and  I  said,  "What  for?"  and 
they  said,  "Never  mind,"  and  kept  me  in  jail  for  almost  three  days.  I 
didn't  know  anybody;  they  could  have  killed  me.  It's  pretty  scary,  and 
I  think  that  somehow  came  through  in  the  photographs — that  vio- 
lence I  was  confronted  with.  Besides  that,  I  had  the  influence  of  Life 
magazine.  I  wanted  to  sell  my  pictures  to  them,  and  they  never  did 
buy  them.  So  I  developed  a  tremendous  contempt  for  them,  which 
helped  me. 

How  did  that  contempt  for  Life  help  you? 

As  an  artist  today  I  somehow  feel  that  you  have  to  be  enraged.  I 
mean,  besides  the  intuition  I  had  and  how  the  country  affected  me, 
I  also  didn't  want  to  produce  what  everybody  else  was  producing.  I 
wanted  to  follow  my  own  intuition  and  do  it  my  way,  and  not  make 
any  concession — not  make  a  Life  story.  That  was  another  thing  I 
hated.  Those  goddamned  stories  with  a  beginning  and  an  end. 

Are  you  still  enraged? 

No,  I  think  your  rage  goes  down  comparatively  as  you  get  older.  The 
only  photographer  that  I  think  has  steadily  shown  new  work  and 
good  work  is  Bill  Brandt.  But  most  of  the  great  photographers,  like 
Cartier-Bresson — compared  to  his  early  work — the  work  in  the  past 
twenty  years,  well,  I  would  rather  he  hadn't  done  it.  That  may  be  too 
harsh,  but  I've  always  thought  it  was  terribly  important  to  have  a 
point  of  view,  and  I  was  always  sort  of  disappointed  in  him  that  that 
was  never  in  his  pictures.  He  traveled  all  over  the  goddamned  world, 
and  you  never  felt  that  he  was  moved  by  something  that  was  happen- 
ing other  than  the  beauty  of  it,  or  just  the  composition.  That's  cer- 
tainly why  Life  gave  him  big  assignments.  They  knew  he  wouldn't 
come  up  with  something  that  wasn't  acceptable. 

56  Robert  Frank 


Robert  Frank,  Drive-in  Movie,  Detroit. 
The  Americans,  1959. 


Robert  Frank,  The  Lines  of  My  Hand, 

1972. 

Robert  Frank,  Filmstrip,  Me  and  My 
Brother,  1965-68.  The  Americans,  1969, 
2nded. 


57   Robert  Frank 


I  remember  Life  once  gave  me  an  assignment.  I  went  with  Ker- 
ouac  to  pick  up  his  mother.  We  wanted  to  get  some  money  for  the  trip 
to  Florida,  so  I  said,  "Let's  get  some  money  from  Life."  We  went  there, 
and  they  said,  "Alright,  Kerouac  will  write  a  story,  and  you'll  photo- 
graph." So  we  did  it,  and  I  showed  them  the  photographs,  and  the  guy 
said,  "Well,  this  looks  like  Russia."  I  never  forgot  that. 

How  did  Lines  of  My  Hand  come  about?  Were  you  moved  by  this 
same  contempt  for  Life? 

There's  a  Japanese  edition  of  that  book  that  explains  it  very  well. 
These  two  Japanese  came,  whom  I'd  never  seen  before,  and  they  said, 
"We  want  to  do  a  book  of  your  photographs."  We  became  quite  good 
friends — we  have  a  correspondence,  and  I  felt  I  really  wanted  to  give 
them  something  that  would  tell  them  about  myself.  So  they  made  a 
book  that's  a  little  bit  different  than  the  American  edition — it's  a  very 
expensive  book:  it's  big  and  elaborate,  and  it's  much  better  than  the 
American  edition.  But  then  again,  it's  a  book  that  goes  back.  It's  all 
looking  back.  And  I  don't  want  to  do  it  anymore. 

Are  you  bored  with  stills? 

Well,  I  looked  at  the  exhibition  here;  somehow  boredom  is  a  rough 
word  to  use.  I  looked  at  Mili's  stuff,  and  that  certainly  bores  me.  I 
liked  what  Smith  wrote  about  the  photographs — why  he  photo- 
graphs, what  he  believes.  I  wouldn't  be  bored  with  him  because  he's 
obsessed  with  it.  I'm  never  bored  when  I  feel  an  obsession  in  some- 
body. I'm  bored  with  the  aesthetics  of  photographs,  but  then  I  think 
Walker's  photographs  are  like  jewels.  They  stay  the  same.  I'm  not 
bored  with  that.  I'm  trying  to  define  how  I  am  bored  with  photo- 
graphs. I'm  sort  of  bored  with  mine. 

If  I  continued  with  still  photography,  I  would  try  to  be  more  hon- 
est and  direct  about  why  I  go  out  there  and  do  it.  And  I  guess  the  only 
way  I  could  do  it  is  with  writing.  I  think  that's  one  of  the  hardest 
things  to  do — combine  words  and  photographs.  But  I  would  certainly 
try  it.  It  would  probably  fail;  I  have  never  liked  what  I  wrote  about 
my  photographs  yet.  That  would  be  the  only  way  I  could  justify  going 
out  in  the  streets  and  photographing  again. 

Does  the  film  medium  allow  you  to  be  more  "honest  and  direct"? 

I  think  film  is  more  of  a  living  thing — more  of  an  instant  communica- 
tion between  people.  If  I  were  to  show  a  film,  it  would  be  a  very  definite 
statement.  That  just  appeals  to  me  more  now — to  have  that  immedi- 
ate response.  Photographs  leave  too  much  open  to  bullshit.  There's 
too  much  aesthetics  involved — too  much  peripheral  talk.  I  would  go 
out,  and  I  would  photograph,  and  I  would  come  and  put  the  photo- 
graphs, like  twenty  of  them,  on  the  table  here.  And  you  could  look  at 
them,  and  you  could  pick  up  more  than  two,  or  the  whole  thing,  and 
nothing  definite  could  be  said  about  them  right  away.  There  would 
be  these  discussions;  you  know — it's  a  good  print,  or  this  photograph 
is  good  after  this  one.  You  can  look  between  the  photographs,  and  I 
can  talk  about  them  and  influence  you  while  you're  looking.  I  would 
never  talk  while  the  film  runs.  Everybody  has  to  look  at  the  film  the 
same  way — you  have  to  sit  in  a  dark  room,  and  there's  no  way  out. 
You  either  close  your  eyes  or  look  at  it.  And  it  isn't  anymore  a  ques- 
tion of  whether  the  photograph  is  good  or  bad.  It's  whether  I  got 
through  with  that  film  what  I  wanted  to  say. 


58  Robert  Frank 


Do  you  think  that  it  has  something  to  do  with  the  fact  that  film  is  a 
couple  of  more  elements  closer  to  how  we  experience  life — in  that  it 
has  movement,  and  it  has  sound?  That  it's  more  complex? 

I  would  justcall  it  truer.  It's  more  stepping  in.  That's  one  thing  I  found 
in  my  films.  Although  it's  true  that  I  often  feel  like  an  observer,  I'm 
still  in  it.  I'm  part  of  it,  definitively.  And  it's  hard  to  see  what  part 
you're  in  as  a  photographer.  I  think  Smith  is  a  good  example.  He  is 
in  it.  His  obsession — I  feel  that  in  his  photographs.  But  for  ninety-    - 
nine  per  cent  of  the  photographers  it's  a  game.  A  game  with  aes- 
thetics or  taste,  or  artistry  like  Gibson,  or  jokes  like  Erwitt,  tricks  like 
Mili,  fashion  like  Penn.  I  mean  who  else?  Name  somebody  and  I'll  say 
something  nasty  about  them.  Only  the  people  who  are  obsessed 
should  continue  with  photography.  Arbus — she  was  obsessed  with 
her  life.  A  girl  I  met  in  New  York,  a  student  of  Arbus,  said  to  me, 
"Well  you  know,  I  really  got  mad  at  Diane  Arbus,  because  she  treated 
our  photographs  just  like  she  treated  the  people  she  photographed. 
We  would  put  our  picture  up  on  the  wall  and  Diane  would  look  at 
the  picture,  and  she  would  say,  'Oh,  how  interesting.  Where  did  you 
meet  that  woman,  and  where  did  she  come  from,  and  what's  going 
on  here?'  "  And  the  girl  was  very  pissed.  She  said,  "I  didn't  get  any- 
thing from  her."  And  I  found  that  very  strange.  I  mean,  that's  the 
way  Arbus  was.  That's  what  got  her  to  get  these  pictures  of  these 
people.  It's  that  curiosity  that  one  has  to  have. 

Anybody  who  is  going  to  be  an  artist  has  to  be  curious.  He's  got  to 
go  out  and  do  his  own  thing.  If  you  talk  to  a  student,  and  the  student 
is  any  good,  has  any  guts,  he  will  not  do  what  you  tell  him.  And  it 
usually  works  out  that  those  students  are  the  ones  that  you  really 
get  interested  in,  and  they  will  get  something  from  you.  That's  the 
way  I  can  help  as  a  teacher.  I  can  help  those  few. 

When  students  bring  in  their  films,  I  can  put  my  finger  on  some- 
thing important  right  away  that  goes  on  inside  them.  The  films  are 
somehow  more  revealing  than  photographs.  It's  because  the  film- 
maker cannot  get  away  with  that  instant  that  might  be  accidental. 
He's  got  to  come  up  with  three  minutes,  and  you  see  there  how  he 
feels,  how  he  goes  back,  how  he  looks  away,  how  he  runs  to  some- 
thing else,  or  how  confused  he  is  looking  around.  And  the  same  thing 
happens  when  I  show  my  movies — the  personal  movies  that  deal 
with  my  life.  I've  done  two  or  three  of  them,  and  after  the  light  goes 
on  and  I'm  out  there,  I  really  feel  like  I've  taken  my  clothes  off,  in  a 
way.  I  feel  like  I've  really  shown  a  lot.  And  some  people  understand 
it,  and  some  people  don't.  But  I've  never  felt  that  as  a  photographer. 
I've  never  felt  like  I've  given  that  much.  And  in  a  way,  that's  one 
thing  teaching  taught  me — to  be  more  generous  with  myself. 

How  do  you  teach  film? 

We  just  make  films.  That's  all  I'm  interested  in.  I  can't  just  sit  there 
and  talk.  I  give  the  students  a  theme.  I  say,  "Make  a  film  about  or- 
anges. ' '  So  they  think  about  it,  and  some  write  a  script  or  a  little  story 
board,  some  just  go  out,  some  don't  know  and  just  sit  there  and  look 
at  you.  Or  I  make  a  film.  Like  I  said,  "I'm  going  to  make  a  film,  and  I'm 
going  to  title  it  '1981  Viet  Orphans.'  "  I  got  to  know  an  eight-year-old 
half-Chinese  boy,  and  I  sat  him  on  a  table.  I  explained  to  the  stu- 
dents what  I  would  do — I  just  made  it  up.  I  gave  the  boy  a  big  knife, 
and  so  this  guy's  cutting  all  the  vegetables  I  have  there,  asparagus, 


59  Robert  Frank 


everything.  He's  just  hacking  this  food  apart.  I  guess  this  runs  about 
three  minutes,  and  that's  the  film  I  made.  I  haven't  gotten  it  back, 
but  I'll  put  it  on  the  projector,  look  at  it,  and  we'll  talk  about  it.  The 
boy  got  really  furious,  and  that's  where  I  wanted  the  film  to  go. 

Today  you  can  go  out  and  buy  your  capsule,  your  cartridge  of 
Super-8  film  for  three  dollars  and  fifty  cents,  put  it  in  your  camera, 
and  shoot  your  stuff.  You  bring  it  to  the  drugstore  and  it  comes  back 
in  three  days,  and  you  look  at  it.  It's  like  you  use  a  pencil:  you  write 
down  what  you  feel,  what  you  think.  Then  you  can  talk  about  it.  Then 
I  can  explain  about  the  cutting,  and  say,  "Why  did  you  do  it  that  way? 
I  would  do  it  this  way."  But  what  I  teach  really  is  to  pick  up  the  cam- 
era and  have  the  confidence  to  say  something  you  feel  strongly  about. 
I've  thought  a  lot  about  teachers— people  who  teach  photography, 
people  who  have  tenure  from  colleges.  I've  been  thinking  a  lot  about 
Callahan.  I  wonder  about  anybody  that  teaches  for  that  long.  I  don't 
see  how  you  can  keep  it  up.  You  must  become  very  uninspired  by  it. 
If  you're  an  artist,  I  think  that  the  university  world  is  not  good.  I  think 
the  real  world  is  better.  You  have  to  be  against  the  system  in  some 
way.  How  do  you  do  that?  That's  the  question.  You're  not  going  to  do 
it  here,  or  in  any  school.  That  much  I  know.  Because  this  is  where  the 
system  is  taught,  and  you're  a  part  of  it,  and  I'm  a  part  of  it.  And  I  ^ 
don't  want  to  be  a  part  of  it.  But  I'm  here.  I'm  being  paid.  And  that's 
my  thing;  that's  the  whole  thing  that  I  have  to  offer— that  I  wasn't 
part  of  it.  I'm  just  trying  to  tell  you  here  what  makes  me  tick.  What 
else  am  I  going  to  do?  Theorize  about  black  and  white  values? 

I  just  feel  that  the  universities  are  really  very  protected  com- 
pounds or  factories,  or  whatever,  and  that's  why  I  wonder  about  Cal- 
lahan. He  keeps  on  working,  and  produces  that  good  work.  But  maybe 
the  work  isn't  good  at  all,  because  he's  made  this  carefully  planned 
move,  and  he's  j  ust  perfecting  something  which  is  his  own  vision. 
And  he's  perfecting  it  so  beautifully  because  he's  in  that  beautifully 
perfected  place  to  begin  with.  And  I  hate  that.  I  wish  that  he  would 
photograph  something  else.  I've  seen  a  show  at  the  Light  Gallery,  and 
it's  quite  beautiful.  He  prints  quite  nicely.  But  I  found  it  deadly.  Not 
in  a  good  way.  But  I'm  not  talking  against  him.  It's  the  aesthetics  of 
tombstone  photography. 

Do  you  think  that  photography  today  has  become  overrun  by  aes 
thetics? 

No,  I  think  a  lot  of  young  people  have  turned  away  from  that.  I  know 
a  number  of  young  people  who  photograph  and  there  are  no  aesthet- 
ics involved— they  take  pictures  without  looking  in  the  viewfinder. 
It's  just  gotta  be  done.  They  often  don't  develop  it,  but  it's  something 
they  carry  with  them,  and  when  they  feel  like  it,  they  take  a  few  pic- 
tures. Maybe  later  on  they'll  take  them  out  and  do  something  with 
them.  I  think  eventually  some  body  of  work  will  come  out  anyhow, 
that  will  express  something  very  strong.  Maybe  it  will  take  longer, 
but  they're  not  in  a  hurry  that  way. 

But  then  they're  not  obsessed,  either. 

Well,  that's  true,  but  I  think  it  will  come  later.  I  think  it's  good  that 
today  people  do  a  lot  of  different  things— study  architecture,  or  play 
music,  or  write  a  book.  And  I  like  it  very  much  when  p3ople  write  with 
photographs.  That's  a  very  hard  thing  to  do.  When  I  started  to  use 


60  Robert  Frank 


the  Super-8mm  camera,  I  took  footage,  and  I'd  often  run  the  whole 
film  through  the  camera.  Then  I'd  wind  the  film  back,  and  then  I'd 
write  some  sentences  on  black  acetate — just  burn  it  out.  I'd  put  it  on 
a  light  box,  and  I'd  put  that  film  back  that  I'd  run  backwards,  and  I'd 
sort  of  know  what  was  on  the  film,  and  I'd  put  sentences  over  the 
whole  picture.  I  mean,  it's  sort  of  a  destroyed  picture.  I  did  that  for 
a  while,  and  I  sort  of  liked  it.  Those  films  are  somehow  simple,  like  ex- 
ercises. They're  just  takes,  and  they're  very  satisfying,  and  in  that 
way  they  might  be  like  photographs.  I  put  them  away  and  didn't  look 
at  them  for  three  years,  and  they  were  very  true.  Those  sentences 
made  a  lot  of  sense  later.  I  guess  a  lot  of  photography  today  deals  with 
your  personal  life.  It  records  it  in  some  way — what  you  see,  or  your 
environment  or  travels.  It's  not  so  much  that  you  want  to  make  beau- 
tiful photographs.  It's  something  else,  and  that  appeals  to  me. 

I'm  not  interested  in  taking  a  beautiful  photograph.  I  don't  mean 
that  there's  no  room  for  it;  I  just  don't  want  to  do  it.  For  example,  I  live 
in  a  very  beautiful  place.  I  could  get  a  camera,  and  make  a  very  beau- 
tiful picture.  It  could  be  almost  as  good  as  Ansel  Adams.  But  I  don't 
want  to  take  a  beautiful  picture,  and  I  can't,  really.  It  makes  me  feel 
good  to  look  at  it.  It  wouldn't  make  me  feel  good  to  take  that  picture. 

I  don't  believe  in  it  anymore — beauty,  aesthetics.  I  think  it  is  crazy 
if  you  are  a  photographer,  and  the  only  idea  that  you  have  is  that  you 
want  to  be  an  artist.  And  that's  what  I  would  object  to  in  somebody 
like  Ralph  Gibson.  That  is  transparent  in  his  work — wanting  to  make 
"art."  Every  picture  is  "art":  meaning,  depth,  space,  all  these  words. 
And  some  photographs  are  quite  beautiful  and  memorable.  To  me 
photography  is  life.  It  has  to  deal  with  life.  And  there's  another  thing 
— "good"  or  "bad."  Maybe  one  shouldn't  make  any  distinction  be- 
tween film  and  photography  when  talking  about  it.  You  know,  it's 
"good"  photography — maybe  it's  just  important  to  do  it.  It's  impor- 
tant to  do  a  film;  it's  probably  harder  to  do  that.  It  means  more  think- 
ing, more  preparation.  When  you  do  photographs,  you  can  go  around, 
put  it  together  after  two  years,  send  out  all  the  postcards,  and  put  it 
on  the  wall.  Like  in  the  Stones  film,  it  was  either  do  it  or  get  out.  Often 
photography  can  be  in-between,  either-or. 

I've  done  Nova  Scotia  with  the  movie  camera.  I've  gone  from  left 
to  right,  when  it  snowed,  when  it  hailed  and  then  when  the  wind  was 
blowing,  and  I  plan  to  use  that  in  some  way.  It's  not  the  beautiful  pho- 
tograph. It  j  ust  means  a  passage  of  time  to  me.  I'm  working  on  a  film 
about  my  daughter,  and  another  friend  of  mine  who  died,  and  I  plan 
to  use  that,  like  time  is  going  by.  But  I  mean,  it's  beautiful  to  be  alive, 
but  life  isn't  that  beautiful. 

In  an  interview  with  Walker  Evans,  you  talked  about  DeKooning 
and  Kline,  and  the  energy  that  was  in  New  York  in  the  fifties  with  the 
abstract  expressionists.  Do  you  feel  that  this  sort  of  energy  is  neces- 
sary for  a  lot  of  people  to  get  together  and  make  a  movement? 

Sometimes,  you  know,  what  I'm  talking  about  is  not  what  I  mean.  But 
I  was  talking  about  a  lifestyle  that  impressed  me.  It  was  like  a  politi- 
cal stand.  At  that  time  I  think  the  abstract  painters  were  suffering. 
They  were  having  a  hard  time.  And  they  totally  believed  in  what  they 
were  doing.  They  were  a  really  strong  group.  All  that  photographers 
talked  about  at  that  time  was  how  to  make  money,  how  to  get  into 
magazines.  It  was  a  relief  to  go  into  a  group  that  was  not  interested 


61   Robert  Frank 


Josef  Koudelka,  Okres  Hnusta,  1967, 
Gypsies,  1975. 


1  imtm  ii  . 

I  IIW  *  'M  Ul 

■  at  annum 

1     M  '«  • 
IWKIH  < 

M  KM  M  Ml) 
III  II  IK  HI  , 

ami    ■ 

"oftL<-  ■  ■'■  ^--riSKV??  ^L  *^^P 

^^H 

l^^^^^nSI 

Walker  Evans,  Subway  Portrait,  1938- 
41,  Many  Are  Called,  1966. 


Robert  Frank,  Funeral,  St.  Helena, 
South  Carolina,  The  Americans,  1959. 


62   Robert  Frank 


in  that  way.  And  in  that  way  it  has  changed  a  lot,  because  painters 
have  become  very  successful  and  very  commercial.  I  have  been  asked 
several  times  to  produce  a  portfolio  of  my  photographs,  and  I  never 
wanted  to,  because  I  somehow  am  against  a  certain  preciousness.  I 
don't  mind  if  a  gallery  sells  some  of  my  prints,  and  they  go  some- 
where, and  I  get  some  money.  But  to  make  a  business  of  it — to  print 
fifty  portfolios  and  sell  them  for  two  thousand  dollars,  and  they're  all 
in  a  box  with  tissue  between  them — I  don't  want  to  do  it.  It's  deadly. 
I  don't  want  to  have  an  exhibition,  either,  because  that's  deadly  too. 
Museums  are . . .  well,  they're  not  deadly,  but  for  me  it  would  be  back 
to  the  old  work  again.  Dig  it  all  up,  have  it  printed  up. 

Well  this  museum  guy  I  Szarkowskil  — I  guess  he  will  be  interest- 
ing to  listen  to.  I  haven't  been  to  the  museum  in  a  long  time.  I  like 
what  he's  showing  now — the  Hungarian  photographer  Koudelka. 
I'd  like  to  see  the  Bacon  show  at  the  Met.  I  like  his  paintings  a  lot;  I 
get  the  message.  I  don't  know.  The  museum  is  sort  of  a  tastemaker. 
It's  very  powerful,  and  anything  that  powerful  I  mistrust  in  a  way. 

Well  you  have  your  own  sense  of  power,  your  sense  of  purity . . . 

I  think  my  asset  is  only  that  I  sort  of  know  who  I  am.  I  know  what  I  can 
do — what  I  can  do  well.  As  an  artist,  what  have  you  got?  No  power, 
nothing.  In  the  end,  power  I  think  is  measured  in  dollars.  I  think  of 
the  power  that  I  have  encountered  in  artists  that  I  know.  When  they 
get  successful,  they  make  factories  out  of  their  art.  A  guy  like  Indi- 
ana, say,  builds  up  his  empire.  Warhol.  I  think  Warhol  is  a  very  im- 
portant artist;  I  have  great  respect  for  him.  The  more  power  you  get, 
you  know,  it  seems  the  weaker  you  get  as  an  artist.  I  often  think  that 
the  best  work  you've  done  is  the  work  you've  done  when  you  had  no 
power,  really.  When  you  had  no  name.  As  a  teacher  I  would  just  try 
to  get  people  to  get  up  the  courage  to  do  it,  not  to  be  afraid  that  they 
would  fail,  just  that  they  tried,  that's  all.  I  certainly  wouldn't  want 
them  to  be  like  me,  or  make  films  like  me. 

Well,  feeling  like  that  is  part  of  what  people  pick  up  from  you,  and 
so  that  is  your  influence. 

I  guess  that  is  powerful,  but  I  never  looked  at  it  that  way.  I'm  not  con- 
scious of  it.  Whereas  with  the  Stones,  every  second,  you  see  that  tre- 
mendous power  that  they  have.  Actually,  everybody  around  them  is 
afraid  of  them — their  friends,  everybody.  What  can  they  do?  They 
can  kill  you.  It's  as  simple  as  that.  They  can  beat  you  to  a  pulp  and 
tell  you  to  get  out.  They  can  do  anything. 

How  did  you  go  about  making  the  Stones  film?  Did  you  get  to  know 
them  very  well  before  you  started  shooting? 

No,  I  didn't.  I  made  a  record  cover  for  them,  and  Mick  Jagger  sort  of 
liked  me.  They  called  me  up  in  Nova  Scotia.  I  said  to  them,  "That's  the 
camera  I  want."  They  bought  the  camera,  and  they  said,  "You  do  the 
film. "  There  was  never  any  more  talk  about  it.  I  j  ust  got  paid,  and  they 
let  me  do  whatever  I  wanted  to,  but  it  was  the  agreement  that  I  would 
finish  and  give  them  the  film.  They  have  the  say  whether  it's  going  to 
come  out  or  not. 

We  went  on  tour  with  them  in  1972.  It's  pretty  interesting  to  get 
to  know  somebody  as  powerful  as  Jagger,  or  that  group.  So  much 
money,  so  much  power.  It's  sort  of  frightening.  It's  a  frightening  film 
in  that  way.  And  if  I  could  have  shown  what  really  went  on,  it  would 

63  Robert  Frank 


have  been  horrendous — not  to  be  believed.  The  film  is  a  pretty 
down-trip  film.  They  weren't  too  happy  about  it,  but  Jagger  is  very 
straight.  He  said,  "You  did  the  film,  that's  the  way  you  see  it;  although 
that's  not  the  way  I  see  it,  that's  not  the  way  it  really  is."  I  like  him 
personally,  and  he's  quite  an  amazing  guy.  He  has  a  fantastic  head, 
and  he's  really  in  control.  They're  rough  people  to  be  with.  You've  got 
to  keep  up.  If  you  can't  keep  up,  it's  too  bad. 

You  seem  to  have  been  a  stranger  in  their  world,  and  there  seems  to 
be  an  element  of  the  stranger  in  both  your  films  and  photography. 
How  do  you  feel  about  that? 

Well,  I  think  that's  quite  a  good  observation.  I  guess  I  am  an  observer, 
in  a  way.  It  also  had  to  do  with  the  fact  that  a  lot  of  my  work  deals 
with  myself,  especially  my  films.  It's  very  hard  to  get  away  from  my- 
self. It  seems,  almost,  that's  all  I  have.  That's  sort  of  a  sad  feeling.  But 
that  feeling  of  being  a  stranger— it  has  to  do  with  years  of  photog- 
raphy, where  you  walk  around,  you  observe,  and  you  walk  away,  and 
you  begin  to  be  a  pretty  good  detective. 

I  was  very  happy  to  make  the  Stones  film,  because  it  got  me  away 
from  myself.  But  then  again,  the  film  turned  out  to  be  about  my 
friend.  We  both  made  the  film  together,  but  he  really  sort  of  lived 
what  the  Stones  imagined  they  were  living.  It  was  a  drug  scene,  but 
he  really  did  it  in  front  of  the  camera,  and  I  lived  with  him,  so  I  made 
the  film  on  him,  part  of  it.  And  on  Jagger  and  Richards.  Those  were 
the  three  people  that  interested  me.  I  wasn't  interested  in  the  music 
at  all,  I  mean  the  performance,  but  Jagger  knew  that.  I  guess  that's 
one  of  the  reasons  he  liked  me. 

You  spoke  earlier  of  your  mistrust  for  powerful  institutions,  like  the 
museum.  Do  you  feel  the  same  sort  of  mistrust  toward  Jagger? 

There  are  two  images  in  my  mind.  On  the  one  hand,  I  admire  him  be- 
cause of  his  ability  as  a  performer,  his  capability  as  an  administrator 
of  such  a  powerful  business  venture.  But  then  on  the  other  hand,  it 
would  be  the  same  for  a  politician  whom  I  would  mistrust.  In  the  end 
it  would  turn  me  off  completely.  I  would  have  nothing  to  do  with  it, 
because  in  the  end  he  would  destroy  me.  Because  I  don't  play  his 
game;  I'm  not  in  his  class.  All  the  personalities  in  that  group  are  espe- 
cially rough.  They  are  hard  on  each  other,  they  are  completely  with- 
out feeling  for  anyone  around  them.  Anything  goes  to  get  the  work 
going  and  keep  it  moving.  And  that's  a  strong  experience  to  go 
through — to  see  that,  and  how  it  works. 

Well,  let's  talk  about  John  Morris.  I  knew  Morris  from  when  he 
was  with  Ladies'  Home  Journal.  He  promised  me  work,  and  he  never 
gave  me  work.  He  said,  "Look,  I  think  that  you  can  get  into  Magnum, 
and  I'm  going  to  bring  them  all  down  here."  And  Cartier-Bresson, 
and  Capa,  and  Erwitt— they  all  came  down,  and  they  looked  at  my 
pictures,  and  they  didn't  say  much.  But  then  he  called  me  back  a  few 
days  later,  and  he  said,  "Well,  we  will  take  you."  He  lined  up  an  ar- 
rangement for  me,  and  I  would  make  a  certain  amount  of  money, 
and  I  really  couldn't  have  done  it.  I  felt  that  they  didn't  really  want 
me,  and  it  was  more  a  personality  thing.  And  he  said  to  me,  "You 
know,  you  should  learn  to  take  more  vertical  pictures,  because  we 
work  for  magazines."  I  never  forgot  that. 


64  Robert  Frank 


You  did  fashion  work,  too,  didn't  you? 

When  I  came  here,  that  was  the  first  job  I  got.  Brodovitch  of  Harper's 
Bazaar  hired  me.  He  was  a  very  important  photography  teacher  at 
that  time,  1948  or  1949,  and  he  had  these  classes,  and  he  asked  me  to 
come.  I  was  very  thankful  to  him,  because  he  got  me  that  job,  but  I 
discovered  that  in  his  classes,  all  he  wanted  to  get  was  ideas  for  fash- 
ion photography— new  ideas.  And  I  dropped  out  right  away.  I  was 
never  any  good  at  fashion  photography.  I  had  no  interest  in  clothes, 
which  you  have  to  have  if  you're  a  fashion  photographer.  That  was 
interesting  about  Brodovitch,  that  he  thought  he  could  make  me  into 
a  fashion  photographer.  He  had  the  same  idea  about  Cartier-Bresson. 

Can  you  talk  a  little  about  Walker  Evans? 

Yeah,  well,  he  helped  me  a  lot  when  I  was  starting.  He  helped  me  get 
the  Guggenheim.  He  never  said  much,  but  he's  a  guy  who  doesn't 
have  to  say  much,  but  you  know  he  understands  what  you're  about. 
So  we  had  a  good  thing  that  way.  He  came  up  to  Nova  Scotia  about 
three  years  ago.  He  had  recovered  from  an  operation,  and  he  came 
up  there  to  visit.  I  took  him  to  all  the  old  houses— the  people  live  just 
like  in  the  thirties  or  forties  in  the  States,  and  he  was  overjoyed.  He 
photographed  and  photographed.  And  I  liked  to  see  him  so  happy 
about  photographing,  but  at  the  same  time,  I  felt  that  I  wouldn't 
want  to  do  that  when  I'm  older. 

I  once  came  to  see  Walker  at  the  office  at  Fortune.  It  was  when 
Agee  had  died,  1955,  around  the  time  I  got  the  Guggenheim.  Agee  was 
his  best  friend,  and  I  remember  him  just  sitting  on  his  desk  in  front  of 
a  window  and  looking  down  on  Rockefeller  Center— you  know,  where 
they  ice  skate?— and  he  just  sat  there  and  he  cried.  I  was  very  moved 
by  it.  I  went  with  him  on  a  trip  to  photograph  mills  in  New  England, 
and  his  wife  had  left  him,  and  he  was  very  sad  then.  He  was  very  in- 
telligent, but  he  didn't  play  the  intellectual,  although  I'm  sure  he  had 
it.  He  went  to  very  good  schools,  and  he  talked  a  lot  about  breeding. 
He  had  class  and  style.  A  lot  of  California  painters  are  certainly  tre- 
mendously influenced  by  Walker's  photographs.  The  whole  pop  art 
thing  is  very  strongly  influenced  by  photography. 

Walker  couldn't  stand  Steichen.  What  about  Steichen?  Do  people 
talk  about  him?  I  think  he  had  a  terrific  understanding  about  art- 
painting  and  sculpture.  I  think  his  judgment  about  that  is  probably 
better  than  about  photography.  But  if  there's  one  thing  I  dislike  in 
photography,  it's  sentimentality.  And  Steichen  to  me  must  be— how 
do  you  say  it? — the  personification  of  sentimentality.  I  can't  stand 
that. 

What  do  you  think  of  Dorothea  Lange's  work? 

I  like  her  work.  I  remember,  I  went  to  see  her  when  she  was  very  sick, 
in  California,  and  she  sat  there  in  her  bed  and  we  talked  about  things. 
Then,  all  of  a  sudden,  she  said,  "I  just  photographed  you."  And  you 
know,  I  was  looking  around,  and  I  understood.  She  took  a  picture  of 
me  in  her  mind.  And  that  was  a  very  nice  thing  she  said. 

My  favorite  photographers  are  Bill  Brandt,  Walker  Evans,  Doro- 
thea Lange,  and  I  like  Emmet  Gowin.  These  are  sort  of  classic  pho- 
tographers, so  I'm,  you  know,  I'm  an  old  man.  I  like  the  classic  stuff. 

I  can't  talk  about  photographs,  really.  There's  a  certain  verbal  gift 
you  have  to  have.  What  could  I  teach  you  except  to  tell  you  about  my- 
self? Whatever  help  that  would  be.  You  know,  one  of  the  worst 
things  an  artist  can  do  is  talk  about  his  work. 

65  Robert  Frank 


Frederick 
Wiseman 


Frederick  Wiseman  was  born  in  Boston 
in  1932  and  grew  up  in  Brookline, 
Massachusetts.  He  graduated  from 
Williams  College  in  1951  and  from  Yale 
Law  School  in  1954;  in  1973  he  received 
an  honorary  degree  in  Humane  Letters 
from  the  University  of  Cincinnati.  He 
has  practiced  and  taught  law  in  Paris 
and  Massachusetts  and  is  a  member  of 
the  Massachusetts  Bar  Association. 
Since  1967,  Wiseman  has  made  ten 
films  as  an  independent  filmmaker, 
and  he  is  now  the  General  Manager  of 
Zipporah  Films,  Incorporated,  Boston. 
His  films  have  won  numerous  awards, 
and  all  except  Titicut  Follies  and  High 
School  have  been  aired  on  public  tele- 
vision. Wiseman's  latest  film,  Meat, 
concerns  the  day-to-day  activities  at 
one  of  the  largest  feed  lot  and  packing 
plants  in  the  country. 


66  Frederick  Wiseman 


For  the  last  nine  years,  I  have  been  working  on  a  series  of  films 
that  are  loosely  defined  as  part  of  an  institutional  series,  with  no  pre- 
cise definitions  of  either  institution  or  series.  I  became  a  filmmaker 
because  the  idea  had  interested  me  for  a  long  time  and  I  was  grow- 
ing increasingly  bored  with  and  indifferent  toward  practicing  and 
teaching  law.  While  I  was  teaching,  I  used  to  take  students  to  correc- 
tional institutions  where  their  future  clients  might  be  sent,  and  one 
of  those  places  was  the  hospital  for  the  criminally  insane  at  Bridge- 
water.  I  vividly  remember  my  first  trip  to  Bridgewater  in  1959. 1 
thought  at  the  time  that  it  might  be  a  good  film  subject,  and  it  be- 
came the  subject  of  my  first  film  Titicut  Follies. 

I  had  seen  so  many  films  that  followed  one  charming  individual, 
whether  it  were  a  movie  star  or  rock  star,  that  I  thought  it  would  be 
more  interesting  to  make  a  film  in  which  the  place  were  the  star. 
Essentially,  what  I  have  been  doing  since  then  is  a  form  of  natural 
history.  I  try  to  look  at  what  is  going  on  to  discover  what  kind  of 
power  relationships  exist  and  differences  between  ideology  and  the 
practice  in  terms  of  the  way  people  are  treated.  The  theme  that 
unites  the  films  is  the  relationship  of  people  to  authority. 

I  pick  an  institution;  by  that  I  mean  simply  a  place  that  has  certain 
kinds  of  geographic  limitations  and  where  at  least  some  of  the  people 
have  well-established  roles.  I  generally  try  to  select  an  institution 
that  is  defined  as  good  within  the  system  in  which  it  operates.  For 
example,  in  High  School  I  deliberately  rejected  a  ghetto  or  inner  city 
school  because  everybody  knew  they  had  a  lot  of  problems;  rather  I 
picked  a  school  that  turned  out  to  be  one  of  the  two  best  schools  in 
Philadelphia.  The  same  thing  happened  in  Titicut  Follies,  because 
Bridgewater,  horrible  as  it  was,  was  considered  one  of  the  better 
prisons  of  its  kind  in  the  country.  If  you  don't  start  with  a  place  that 
is  defined  at  least  by  the  world  in  which  it  exists  as  good,  then  the  sit- 
uation is  too  easy  and  not  complicated  enough  to  merit  a  year's  work. 

Titicut  Follies  was  financed  by  a  lab  in  New  York.  A  documentary 
can  cost  a  lot  of  money  or  very  little.  To  keep  the  cost  down,  you  have 
to  use  the  same  kind  of  judgment  necessary  in  any  good  business 
practice.  When  I  began  I  didn't  have  any  money  to  lose,  in  the  sense 
that  if  I  went  into  debt,  I  had  the  choice  of  working  to  pay  off  the  debt 
or  going  bankrupt,  and  I  was  willing  to  take  that  risk.  A  lab  was  will- 
ing to  gamble  with  me  and  gave  me  credit,  a  long  deferment.  In  fact, 
I  didn't  pay  the  lab  on  the  Follies  for  six  years;  but  they  were  willing 
to  go  along  with  it  because  in  the  meantime  I  had  given  them  busi- 
ness on  my  other  films.  It's  not  easy,  but  it's  not  terribly  difficult  to  get 
a  lab  to  go  along  with  you  if  you  want  to  take  the  risk,  which  is  a 
severe  one.  And  if  you  go  bankrupt,  which  is  one  way  of  avoiding 
the  debt,  that's  the  end  of  your  getting  credit  in  the  movie  business. 
So  it's  not  done  lightly. 

There's  a  lot  of  mystification  about  movies,  a  special  vocabulary 
that  takes  about  twenty-five  minutes  to  learn  which  people  use,  just 
like  any  special  vocabulary,  to  exclude  other  people.  The  money  issue 
in  film  is  certainly  crucial,  but  it's  sometimes  viewed  as  an  obstacle 
when  it's  not,  especially  since  there's  so  much  equipment  around. 
Many  people  have  Eclairs  and  Nagras  which  they're  not  using  most 
of  the  time;  you  can  usually  borrow  the  equipment  or  rent  it  for  a 
small  amount  of  money.  People  who  work  or  teach  in  film  schools  fre- 
quently have  a  lot  of  equipment  available,  or  you  can  ask  one  of  the 
equipment  supply  houses  in  New  York  who  in  Boston  has  recently 

67  Frederick  Wiseman 


bought  equipment.  In  addition,  raw  stock  can  be  obtained  relatively 
cheaply  at,  for  instance,  Defense  Department  auctions,  if  you're  will- 
ing to  organize  yourself  and  be  a  bit  of  an  entrepreneur  about  wheel- 
ing and  dealing.  You  have  to  be  very  aggressive  about  all  aspects  of 
it;  you  can  then  make  a  film  for  a  relatively  small  amount  of  money. 
The  politics  of  getting  permission  is  another  issue  which  is  some- 
times very  complicated  and  sometimes  very  easy.  First  I  try  to  find 
someone  within  the  bureaucracy  who  wants  to  have  a  film  made,  for 
reasons  that  correspond  or  in  some  way  coincide  with  my  own,  who 
then  becomes  an  internal  advisor  on  how  to  obtain  permission  to 
make  the  film.  He  advises  me  on  the  initial  responses  to  the  request 
to  do  the  film  and  tells  me  whom  to  see  and  who  has  authority  to 
grant  permission.  I  always  offer  to  show  any  of  my  earlier  films. 
Although  I  would  like  to  think  that  everybody  has  seen  the  films 
and  knows  about  them,  the  fact  of  the  matter  is  that  most  of  the 
people  of  whom  I  ask  permission  have  never  heard  of  me  nor  seen 
any  of  my  films.  It  seems  perfectly  natural  that  somebody  would 
want  to  see  what  I've  done  elsewhere,  but  it's  very  rare  that  that  hap- 
pens. The  only  time  my  offer  was  taken  up  in  any  detail  was  with  the 
Army.  They  saw  everything  I  had  done  before  they  gave  me  permis- 
sion to  make  Basic  Training. 

Why  I  get  permission,  or  why  anybody  gets  permission,  I  don't 
really  know.  I  think  it's  a  combination  of  passivity  and  vanity,  pri- 
marily vanity  in  that  people  are  flattered  that  you're  interested  in 
spending  the  time  to  photograph  and  record  what  they're  doing, 
and  that  their  work  will  be  presented  on  public  television. 

After  having  been  granted  permission,  I  write  a  letter  to  the  head 
of  the  institution  outlining  what  I  plan  to  do.  Since  I  don't  know  in 
advance  exactly  what  will  happen  in  the  course  of  filming,  I  can't 
say  definitely  what  the  final  film  will  be,  particularly  since  none  of 
the  events  are  staged.  I  list  as  examples  events  that  I  think  might 
happen.  In  the  same  letter  I  also  make  clear  that  I  have  editorial 
control  over  the  film. 

Before  I  begin  filming,  I  usually  spend  a  day  or  two  trying  to  get  a 
sense  of  the  place  and  particularly  trying  to  find  those  people  who 
are  making  decisions  and  who  have  power  over  others.  I  don't  be- 
lieve in  doing  much  research  beyond  that  because,  in  a  sense,  the 
shooting  of  the  film  is  the  reseaixh.  There  are  usually  no  books  that 
have  been  written  about  the  particular  place  where  I'm  making  the 
film,  and  in  any  event,  I  was  a  very  bad  student  in  foreign  languages 
in  college  and  so  I  have  a  great  deal  of  difficulty  in  reading  in  the 
social  sciences.  Instead,  I  try  to  find  some  novels  that  are  more  or 
less  directed  to  the  subject  of  the  film  to  get  a  sense  of  what  someone 
else  thought  about  a  similar  place.  Usually,  either  the  day  I  start,  or 
the  day  before,  I  have  a  notice  placed  on  the  bulletin  boards  so  that 
as  many  people  as  possible  have  access  to  information  that  a  film  is 
being  made,  and  so  that  everybody  doesn't  stop  us  in  the  corridor  to 
ask  what  the  camera  and  tape  recorder  are  for.  If  possible  I  may  also 
have  the  institution's  bulletin  or  newsletter  publish  a  notice  about 
the  film. 

Once  you  start  shooting,  you  use  a  combination  of  judgment, 
luck  and  good  informants.  I  use  informants  in  the  best  sense  of  the 
word  because  I  am  very  dependent  on  people  within  the  institution 
to  tell  me  what's  going  on  and  what  they  think  is  relevant  since  I 
really  don't  know  that  much  about  it.  For  example,  I  relied  on  the 


68  Frederick  Wiseman 


Frederick  Wiseman,  Dean  of  Discipline 
Punishing  Student,  High  School,  1968. 


Dean  of  Discipline  in  High  School  because  he  came  up  to  me  the 
first  day  that  I  was  there  and  said,  "You  ought  to  come  to  my  office 
at  9:15  in  the  morning  and  see  the  culprits  line  up  outside  the  door." 
That  was  a  very  inviting  suggestion,  so  the  next  morning  I  went 
down  and  the  culprits,  about  twenty  of  them,  were  lined  up  outside 
the  door.  Then  his  office  became  a  difficult  place  to  stay  away  from. 
It  was  a  particularly  significant  place  to  be,  not  only  for  its  situation 
comedy  value,  but  also  because  the  Dean  of  Discipline  felt  compelled 
to  rationalize  to  the  students  the  reasons  for  whatever  particular 
punishment  he  was  giving,  revealing  as  he  did  so,  some  of  the  values 
and  ideologies  of  the  institution.  Similarly,  a  student  came  up  to  me 
one  day  and  said  that  I  ought  to  come  to  his  English  class  because 
he  thought  he  had  a  good  English  teacher,  and  it  turned  out  to  be 
the  teacher  who  read  "Casey  at  the  Bat."  These  are  only  two  exam- 
ples of  what  happens  all  the  time. 

The  basic  technique  in  filming  is  to  hang  around  with  a  tape 
recorder  and  a  16mm  Eclair  camera.  All  the  equipment  is  hand  held. 
There  are  no  artificial  lights;  you  use  natural  lights  and  very  fast 
black  and  white  Kodak  double-x  72/22  film.  I  think  black  and  white 
film  is  more  appropriate  than  color  for  these  particular  subjects.  To 
get  good  color,  you  would  have  to  use  lights  and  really  control  the 
light,  which  you  really  can't  do  in  this  type  of  filming.  For  example, 
an  ambulance  pulls  up  outside  Metropolitan  Hospital;  somebody 
comes  crashing  down  the  corridor  in  a  stretcher.  You  don't  know 
which  of  the  six  emergency  rooms  you're  going  to  go  to,  and  even  if 
you  did,  you  wouldn't  know  quite  how  the  people  were  going  to  be 
placed  and,  therefore,  how  you  should  light  the  room.  A  lot  of  extra 
lights  would  make  people  too  self-conscious.  Black  and  white  is  more 
appropriate  for  the  look  I  want  the  film  to  have. 

I  don't  do  the  shooting  myself.  I  direct  and  do  the  sound,  and  work 
with  a  cameraman.  There  are  certain  kinds  of  things  you  have  to 
have  in  every  situation;  you've  got  to  have  wide  shots,  you've  got  to 
follow  the  action  which  means  following  whoever  is  talking,  and 
you've  got  to  shoot  for  cutaways.  I'm  much  freer  to  see  what's  going 


69   Frederick  Wiseman 


on  because  I'm  not  shooting.  The  cameraman  has  got  one  eye  on  the 
viewfinder  and  one  eye  on  me,  and  I've  got  one  eye  on  him  and  one 
eye  on  what's  going  on.  When  it  works  it's  like  a  little  dance  because 
we're  moving  around  the  people  that  we're  shooting;  and  at  the  same 
time  we  have  our  own  little  signals  for  each  other.  My  instinct  is 
always  to  shoot.  Once  you  think  something  is  okay  you  shoot  even 
though  it  might  turn  out  to  be  no  good  because  you  can  never  predict 
how  an  event  will  turn  out.  In  the  long  run,  it  is  really  more  economi- 
cal to  take  the  risk  of  shooting,  ending  up  with  a  thirty  to  one  ratio, 
than  to  try  to  control  it  more  completely  and  only  shoot,  say  ten  to 
one,  and  not  spend  as  much  money.  With  a  smaller  ratio  you  won't 
have  as  good  a  film  because  you  won't  have  the  range  of  choices  that 
you  need  in  the  editing.  You  shoot  a  lot  of  little  incidental  things 
which  you  really  don't  yet  know  how  you're  going  to  use,  but  you 
know  they're  going  to  be  useful.  You  try  to  get  as  much  of  the  general 
activity  as  you  can,  not  following  any  particular  theory  except  for 
your  own  instinct  of  what  appears  to  be  interesting,  relevant  or 
amusing. 

I  don't  really  think  the  presence  of  the  camera  affects  people's 
behavior  because  I  don't  think  any  of  us  has  the  capacity  to  suddenly 
change  our  behavior  and  become  something  we're  not.  If  we  did  have 
that  talent,  we'd  all  be  in  the  Old  Vic,  and  most  of  us  aren't  such  good 
actors.  I  think  that  if  the  camera  equipment  makes  people  nervous, 
the  chances  are  that  rather  than  try  something  new,  they'll  fall  back 
on  forms  of  behavior  they're  comfortable  with,  that  they  think  are 
appropriate  and  natural  for  the  situation.  For  example,  in  Law  and 
Order  there's  a  sequence  in  which  a  cop  finds  a  girl  accused  of  pros- 
titution in  the  basement  of  a  hotel.  There  was  no  light  at  all  in  the 
cellar,  so  we  had  to  use  a  sungun.  In  front  of  the  camera,  the  sungun 
and  the  tape  recorder  the  cop  proceeded  to  strangle  her,  finally  let- 
ting her  go  just  before  she  passed  out.  After  she  pulled  herself 
together  she  said  to  the  cop,  "You  were  trying  to  strangle  me!",  and 
another  cop  said,  "Oh,  you're  just  imagining  that."  Now  you  could 
presumably  argue  that  had  the  camera  not  been  there  he  might  have 


Frederick  Wiseman,  Law  and  Order, 
1969. 


70  Frederick  Wiseman 


killed  her,  but  I  don't  think  so.  I  think  that  he  just  felt  that  it  was  an 
appropriate  way  to  behave  toward  the  girl. 

A  documentary  filmmaker  is  no  different  from  anyone  who  meets 
a  lot  of  people  in  the  course  of  his  work.  To  survive  you  have  to 
develop  a  sensitive  bullshit  meter.  If  you  think  someone  is  conning 
you  or  putting  it  on  for  the  camera,  you  stop  shooting.  And  if  you 
only  realize  it  in  the  editing,  you  don't  use  the  footage.  You're  not 
always  right,  but  it's  an  issue  that  you  have  to  be  very  aware  of. 

After  a  month  or  so  of  shooting,  you  may  accumulate  forty  to  fifty 
hours  of  footage  which  will  be  edited  to  a  film  of  perhaps  eighty  or 
ninety  minutes.  It  takes  four  to  five  weeks  to  synchronize  the  sound 
and  picture  tracks  after  you  return  from  shooting.  While  you're 
doing  that,  you  make  up  three  by  five  cards  or  a  notebook  indexing 
what's  on  every  roll.  By  the  time  you  finish,  you  know  the  material 
reasonably  well.  Then  you  make  up  an  outline  against  which  you 
work.  During  that  process,  you  probably  discard,  at  least  tem- 
porarily, about  sixty  percent  of  the  material.  At  this  point,  I  try  to 
make  a  list  of  those  sequences  which  I  think  will  be  major  to  the  film 
and  I  begin  to  think  about  their  relationship  to  each  other. 

Since  the  themes  of  a  documentary  evolve  from  the  experience 
of  shooting  and  editing  the  material,  you  have  to  think  through  what 
each  sequence  means  to  you  in  order  to  figure  out  whether  to  use  it  or 
whether  part  of  it  will  fit  in  the  film.  That  is  essentially  what's  in- 
volved in  the  editing  because  you  haven't  had  time  to  do  that  while 
shooting.  In  the  end  there  must  be  a  rationale  for  why  each  segment 
is  where  it  is,  what  it's  relationship  is  to  the  sequence  before  and 
after  and  to  the  overall  themes  that  are  being  developed. 

In  the  process  of  editing  I  have  left  out  sequences  that  might  have 
been  good,  not  because  they  were  too  shocking  or  too  emotionally 
charged,  but  because  they  would  have  "loaded"  the  film  too  much. 
For  example,  in  High  School  the  teacher  who  reads  "Casey  at  the  Bat" 
gave  a  multiple  choice  test  on  Hamlet  a  few  days  later  that  went 
something  like:  Hamlet  loves  Polonius,  hates  Polonius,  is  indifferent 
to  Polonius,  check  one.  I  thought  that  would  be  a  bit  unfair.  I  like 
"Casey  at  the  Bat"  better  and  couldn't  use  them  both. 

The  film  begins  to  emerge  only  toward  the  last  three  or  four 
weeks  of  editing.  Material  which  you  originally  thought  useless 
usually  saves  the  film  because  it  provides  you  with  the  cutaways,  or 
pauses,  or  whatever.  For  example,  toward  the  end  of  the  editing  of 
Hospital,  I  was  concerned  about  the  pacing  of  the  film  because  I  felt 
there  were  too  many  big  sequences  too  close  to  each  other.  I  had  not 
yet  used  a  series  of  corridor  sequences,  people  hanging  around  in  the 
corridor  or  stretchers  being  taken  down  corridors,  or  ambulances 
arriving.  When  they  were  put  into  the  film  they  provided  pauses  be- 
tween the  long  scenes,  as  well  as  some  action  which  gave  a  rhythm 
or  pace  to  the  material  that  it  previously  didn't  have. 

High  School  took  me  the  least  amount  of  time  to  edit — four 
months,  and  Primate  the  most — fourteen  months.  One  of  the  things 
I  was  trying  to  do  in  Primate  was  to  see  to  what  extent  you  could  tell 
the  story  just  by  pictures.  There  was  very  little  dialogue  in  Primate. 
In  most  of  my  films  there  are  about  ninety  pages  of  dialogue  and  in 
Primate  there  are  thirty-two. 

Primate  begins  with  shots  of  the  government  behaviorists  and 
ends  with  a  space  trip.  There  is  a  connection  to  be  made  between 
that  kind  of  research  and  that  kind  of  result.  One  of  the  interesting 


71  Frederick  Wiseman 


Frederick  Wiseman,  Drunken  Man 
Tied  to  Wheelchair  to  Keep  Him  from 
Falling  on  the  Floor,  Hospital,  1970. 


things  about  Yerkes  is  that  it  provides  the  opportunity  to  see  the  ap- 
plication of  the  scientific  method  in  two  crucial  kinds  of  situations 
involving  both  behavioral  and  biological  problems.  And  you  see  in 
the  film  some  of  the  implications  of  both  kinds  of  research.  One  of  the 
curious  things  about  Primate  is  that  in  many  ways  the  concerns  of 
the  scientists  are  exactly  the  same  issues  that  concern  the  teachers  in 
High  School,  namely,  how  to  control  sexual  and  aggressive  behavior. 
I  think  my  point  of  view  is  very  strongly  revealed  in  Primate,  but  it's 
revealed  structurally  in  the  arrangement  of  the  sequences. 

Some  documentary  filmmakers  don't  feel  you  should  edit  at  all. 
I'm  very  much  more  interested  in  form  than  some  other  filmmakers, 
and  in  tight  control  of  the  material.  The  whole  effort  is  an  attempt  to 
assert  some  kind  of  control  over  chaos.  The  form  of  the  film  is  totally 
fictional  but  it's  based  on  a  reality  situation.  A  sequence  in  real  time 
might  last  an  hour  and  a  half  of  which  you  shoot  fifty  minutes  and 
end  up  using  only  three.  That  three  minutes  may  come  from  the  first, 
the  thirtieth  and  fortieth  minute  of  the  sequence.  You  are  able  to  link 
those  three  bits  of  dialogue  together  by  use  of  cutaways.  The  result 
is  a  sequence  which  is  totally  arbitrary  in  that  it  never  existed  in  real 
life,  but  it  works  in  film  terms.  All  the  material  is  manipulated  so  that 
the  final  film  is  totally  fictional  in  form  although  it  is  based  on  real 
events.  Because  it  is  a  fictional  form  you  have  the  same  kind  of  prob- 
lems that  exist  in  writing  a  novel,  or  a  play:  problems  of  character- 
ization, transition,  point  of  view,  etc.  I  am  interested  in  the  relation- 
ship between  various  forms  because  in  many  ways  I  think  there  are 
similarities  in  the  techniques. 

I  don't  think  it's  possible  to  make  an  objective  documentary  film, 
or  an  objective  anything.  It's  simply  one  person's  version  of  an  aspect 
of  reality  that  you've  had  a  chance  to  photograph,  record,  think  about 
and  try  to  structure.  No  two  people  can  structure  that  in  the  same 
way;  no  two  people  would  think  about  it  in  exactly  the  same  way.  But 
the  effort  in  each  case  is  to  make  a  film  that  is  fair  to  the  experience 
you  had  in  making  the  film,  to  give  a  fair  report  on  what  you  have 
seen  and  felt  and  learned.  That  frequently  is  very  different  from  the 
point  of  view  that  you  started  out  with.  I  haven't  made  a  film  yet  in 
which  I  haven't  been  surprised  by  the  way  it  comes  out. 


72  Frederick  Wiseman 


Frederick  Wiseman,  Primate,  1974. 


Frederick  Wiseman,  A  Scientist  Ex- 
amines an  Anesthetized  Orangutan 
Prior  to  Surgery,  Primate,  1974. 


Frederick  Wiseman,  Testing  the 
Effect  of  Refrigeration,  Primate,  1974. 


/ 


- 


j 


m 


73  Frederick  Wiseman 


Frederick  Wiseman,  Primate,  1974. 


Frederick  Wiseman,  Primate,  1974. 


74  Frederick  Wiseman 


Ultimately,  what  you're  trying  to  do,  what  you  ask  the  audience 
to  do  when  they  see  the  film,  is  to  repeat  that  process,  but  clearly  with 
a  much  smaller  amount  of  material,  and  to  think  through  their  own 
relationship  to  what  they're  seeing  and  hearing.  You're  not  telling 
them  what  their  particular  response  should  be  to  any  one  sequence. 
The  issue  of  the  audience  response  is  something  you  really  can't 
have  in  mind  while  you're  making  the  film.  Once  you  start  thinking 
about  the  audience,  you  have  to  water  down  the  material  to  reach  the 
lowest  common  denominator.  At  the  risk  of  being  arrogant,  I  always 
assume  that  I  am  the  audience.  If  I  didn't  do  that,  I'd  be  substituting 
someone  else's  j  udgment  for  my  own,  and  the  whole  idea  of  this  kind 
of  filmmaking  is  much  too  personal  to  do  that. 

In  a  Hollywood  film  there  is  usually  a  one-to-one  relationship  be- 
tween a  sequence  and  a  point  that  it's  making.  In  a  documentary  a 
scene  may  be  making  four  or  five  points  at  the  same  time.  Take,  for 
example,  the  sequence  in  High  School  in  which  the  home  economics 
teacher  is  instructing  the  girls  about  how  to  be  good  fashion  design- 
ers and  seamstresses.  On  the  one  hand  she  is  totally  undercutting 
them  by  telling  them  all  that  their  legs  are  too  thick  for  the  stuff  and 
that  there  is  an  appropriate  way  for  women  to  walk  and  to  dress  and 
that  they  can't  wear  certain  kinds  of  clothes  if  their  legs  happen  to 
be  thicker  than  those  of  a  Vogue  model.  Your  reaction  to  that  scene  is 
very  much  dependent  on  your  own  values.  If  you  agree  with  the 
values  of  the  teacher,  then  you  think  she's  doing  an  excellent  job.  If 
you  think  there  is  something  savage  about  the  way  she  is  cutting  the 
girls  down  and  that  there  is  no  such  thing  as  a  uniform  ideal  of 
beauty  or  attractiveness,  then  your  attitude  toward  the  teacher  is 
very  different.  That's  characteristic  of  all  sequences  in  documentary 
films. 

You  are  asking  the  audience  to  work  in  much  the  same  way  that 
you  have  worked  in  putting  the  film  together.  Frequently  there  are 
amazing  results.  When  Louise  Day  Hicks  saw  High  School,  for  ex- 
ample, she  said  that  she  really  liked  the  film,  that  it  had  the  bitter- 
sweet quality  of  life.  You  know,  I  thought  that  was  fine.  She  hap- 
pened to  be  on  the  other  side  of  all  the  issues.  I  didn't  really  take  that 
as  any  failure  in  the  point  of  view  of  the  film  because  I  think  that  the 
point  of  view  of  the  film  was  quite  clear.  But  her  ideology,  or  values, 
or  whatever  you  want  to  call  it,  was  so  totally  different  from  mine 
that  she  saw  the  film  in  a  completely  different  light.  That  often  hap- 
pens in  documentary  film  when  you  are  trying  to  make  the  film 
reflect  the  complexity  of  the  reality  you're  dealing  with.  The  reaction 
to  the  film  is  very  much  dependent  on  one's  own  values. 

I've  made  eight  films,  and  only  three  of  the  eight  institutions  have 
been  unhappy  with  the  results,  and  then  only  as  a  consequence  of  the 
reviews.  When  they  first  saw  the  film  they  always  liked  it  and  thought 
it  was  fair.  They  reacted  more  to  the  reviews  and  the  way  they  were 
characterized  in  the  reviews  than  they  did  to  the  film  itself.  Except 
for  Titicut  Follies,  High  School  and  Primate,  the  people  who  gave  me 
permission  and  who  were  in  the  film  have  generally  liked  them. 

Once  the  film  is  made  there  is  the  problem  of  distribution.  I  did 
not  become  involved  in  distribution  to  affect  social  change.  I  set  up 
my  own  distributing  company  six  years  ago  because  independent 
filmmakers  are  constantly  being  cheated  by  film  distributors.  That's 
not  just  paranoia;  it  happens  all  the  time  because  the  independent 
filmmaker  has  no  leverage.  He  may  make  one  film  a  year  or  one  film 


75  Frederick  Wiseman 


Frederick  Wiseman,  High  School,  1968. 


Frederick  Wiseman.  Dean  of  Discipline 
Punishing  Student,  High  School,  1968. 


Frederick  Wiseman,  Basic  Training, 
1971. 


76  Frederick  Wiseman 


every  five  years  and  he  usually  doesn't  have  the  money  to  send  ac- 
countants in  to  check  the  books  or  to  figure  out  what's  going  on,  and 
typically,  unless  a  16mm  film  is  very  successful,  once  it  is  turned  over 
to  a  distributor,  you  rarely  see  any  money. 

After  suing  a  distributor  twice,  and  recovering,  I  decided  that 
instead  of  spending  money  on  legal  fees,  I  would  rather  hire  someone 
who  likes  the  films  and  is  aggressive  about  getting  them  distributed 
on  college  campuses.  The  distribution  is  an  enormous  amount  of 
work,  but  if  you're  not  willing  to  become  involved  with  the  business 
aspects  of  filmmaking,  you're  going  to  be  badly  taken  advantage  of. 
You  have  to  know  all  about  that  in  order  to  survive  as  a  filmmaker. 

When  I  first  began  making  films  I  had  a  naive  view  that  there  was 
some  kind  of  one-to-one  or  direct  connection  between  films  of  this 
sort  and  social  action  or  social  change.  Now  I  think  that  was  totally 
naive;  there  is  no  connection.  In  many  ways  that's  probably  just  as 
well  because  if  one  person  were  to  make  a  film  that  would  affect  ten 
people,  someone  else  might  be  able  to  make  a  film  that  would  affect 
ten  thousand  people  in  particular  ways  that  you  may  not  like.  I  don't 
want  to  have  that  kind  of  power.  Ultimately  I  think  it's  both  pre- 
sumptuous on  the  part  of  the  filmmaker  and  condescending  to  the 
audience  to  think  that  any  work  is  that  powerful.  If  the  films  do  any- 
thing, they  provide  people  with  information  which  they  may  be  in  a 
position  to  use  at  some  point  along  the  line  along  with  other  kinds  of 
information  to  influence  the  way  they  make  a  decision  about  some- 
thing that's  going  on  in  society.  Then  the  film  becomes  one  of  many 
experiences  that  inform  that  decision.  But  I  do  not  think  that  there's 
any  direct  connection  between  a  film  and  a  series  of  change  pro- 
cedures. For  example,  Titicut  Follies,  which  is  perhaps  the  most 
directly  critical  film  I  have  done,  had  little  impact  on  Bridgewater. 
I  had  hoped  that  it  would,  but  it  certainly  didn't.  One  indication  of 
that  is  the  trial  that  took  place  in  the  Massachusetts  Federal  Court 
in  the  fall  of  1974,  seven  years  after  the  Follies  was  made.  Two  in- 
mates brought  a  suit  to  close  down  Bridgewater  because  of  inad- 
equate medical  and  psychiatric  facilities,  the  lack  of  which  was 
documented  in  the  film.  I  have  a  fairly  skeptical  view  of  people  who 
run  around,  as  I  once  did,  with  wide  eyes  saying  that  they're  really 
going  to  bring  about  instant  and  immediate  change. 

All  the  films  suggest  ideas  about  how  authority  is  exercised  in  this 
society  because  the  theme  that  unites  the  films  is  the  relationship  of 
the  individual  to  authority.  And  in  each  of  the  films  you  see  different 
illustrations  of  how  power  is  exercised  in  various  institutional  set- 
tings, and  by  implication,  in  other  places  and  other  situations.  There 
is  a  certain  similarity  between  all  the  films.  For  example,  the  things 
that  the  Dean  of  Discipline  says  in  High  School  are  almost  word  for 
word  what  the  company  commander  says  in  Basic  Training.  The  dif- 
ference between  the  formal  and  informal  attitudes  toward  authority 
cuts  across  all  the  films  and  says  something,  hopefully,  not  just  about 
the  particular  place  where  the  film  is  made  but  about  some  larger 
issues  that  relate  to  other  places  and  people. 


77  Frederick  Wiseman 


John 
Szarkowski 


John  Szarkowski  was  born  in  Ashland, 
Wisconsin  in  1925  and  first  began 
photographing  there  eight  years  later. 
He  majored  in  art  history  at  the  Uni- 
versity of  Wisconsin  and  while  he  was 
a  student,  worked  as  a  darkroom  as- 
sistant and  photographer  in  Frederica 
Cutcheon's  portrait  studio  in  Madison. 
In  1948,  he  became  a  staff  photographer 
at  the  Walker  Art  Center  in  Minnea- 
polis, Minnesota.  In  1951,  he  left  to 
become  an  instructor  in  photography 
and  art  history  at  the  Albright  Art 
School  in  Buffalo,  New  York. 

Work  on  his  first  book,  The  Idea  of 
Louis  Sullivan,  began  in  Buffalo  with 
his  photographs  of  the  Prudential  build- 
ing. In  1953,  he  moved  to  Chicago,  home 
of  many  of  Sullivan's  buildings,  where 
he  did  promotional  food  advertise- 
ments for  a  commercial  studio.  In  1954, 
a  Guggenheim  Foundation  grant 
allowed  him  to  concentrate  his  efforts 
on  the  completion  of  his  book. 

After  the  publication  in  1958  of  The 
Face  of  Minnesota,  in  which  photo- 
graphs and  text  were  combined  to  cele- 
brate the  state's  one-hundredth  year, 
Szarkowski  moved  to  Washburn,  Wis- 
consin and  was  awarded  a  second  Gug- 
genheim grant  to  photograph  Ontario's 
Quetico  wilderness.  In  1962,  he  became 
the  Director  of  the  Department  of 
Photography  at  the  Museum  of  Modern 
Art  in  New  York. 


John  Szarkowski,  Chicago  Auditorium. 
1954. 


78  John  Szarkowski 


Evening  Lecture 

I  would  like  to  address  myself  to  what  may  seem  to  be  a  positively 
primitive  question,  and  consider  in  an  exploratory  way  the  manner 
in  which  photography  has  changed  our  understanding  of  the  idea  of 
pictorial  subject.  The  fact  of  the  matter,  if  we  are  to  begin  on  the  basis 
of  full  and  open  disclosure,  is  that  those  of  us  who  have  thought  about 
photography  have  not  yet  made  a  great  deal  of  progress.  Even  in 
terms  of  historical  matters,  our  knowledge  is  shot  full  of  if s  and  buts, 
erasures,  illegible  words,  missing  chapters,  and  dubious  conjectures. 
Perhaps  we  should  start  back  at  the  beginning  and  consider  the  re- 
lationship in  photography  of  subject  and  form. 

Photography  is  a  system  of  picture  making  in  which  subject  and 
form  are  identical  and  indistinguishable,  in  which  the  subj  ect  and  the 
picture  are  beyond  argument  the  same  thing.  But  what  interests  me 
most  about  this  would  be  a  corollary  which  states  that  the  function  of 
the  photographer  is  to  decide  what  his  subject  is.  I  mean  that  this  is 
his  only  function. 

The  kinds  of  choices  that  a  photographer  makes  in  the  process 
of  defining  his  subject  cover  a  broad  spectrum,  ranging  from  gross 
choices  to  exquisitely  subtle  ones.  Beginning  on  the  gross  end,  the 
photographer  must  decide  whether  he  will  work  in  his  own  backyard 
or  sail  off  to  Egypt  or  to  the  moon.  Once  in  Egypt,  he  has  to  decide 
whether  to  photograph  Egyptians  or  pyramids.  From  this  point  on, 
the  decisions  become  not  more  important,  but  subtler:  which  pyra- 
mid? from  what  vantage  point  and  in  what  light?  in  what  relation  to 
the  picture  frame?  with  what  combination  of  exposure  and  develop- 
ment in  order  to  achieve  a  j  ust  resolution  of  the  conflicting  claims  of 
surface  texture,  space,  volume,  and  pattern?  and  then  the  decisions 
bearing  on  the  making  of  a  print  that  will  most  closely  approximate 
the  slippery  memory  of  that  true  and  ephemeral  subject  that  was  de- 
fined on  the  site. 

The  degree  of  complexity  that  separates  the  decisions  of  Francis 
Frith  from  those  of  Dorothea  Lange,  photographing  a  cotton  picker  in 
Eloy,  Arizona,  almost  a  century  later,  is  obvious  enough.  But  I  think 

Francis  Frith,  The  Pyramids  of 
Dahshur,  1858. 


**<4 


79  John  Szarkowski 


Dorothea  Lange,  Migratory  Cotton 
Picker,  Elroy,  Arizona,  1940.  The 
Museum  of  Modern  Art,  Courtesy  of 
the  Library  of  Congress. 


the  principle  is  the  same.  Choice,  intuition,  and  the  winds  of  chance 
took  Lange  to  Arizona.  By  passing  a  million  other  potential  subjects, 
she  found  her  way  to  this  particular  plantation.  There  she  chose  to 
ignore  the  landscape,  architecture,  the  beautiful  intricate  machin- 
ery, in  order  to  concentrate  on  the  men  who  worked  there.  Among 
these  she  chose  to  photograph  a  group  that  included  this  man.  She 
made  several  exposures  of  him  and  his  fellow  laborers  from  a  dis- 
tance as  they  loaded  their  cotton.  She  then  decided  that  she  was  not 
yet  finished;  and  she  moved  closer,  homing  in  on  this  man,  perhaps 
because  he  had  a  good  face,  more  likely,  I  think,  because  he  was  in  a 
good  light.  By  this  point,  the  question  of  what  the  subject  is  involves 
choices  in  four  dimensions  which  must  be  coordinated  swiftly  and 
intuitively. 


Garry  Winogrand,  Dallas,  1965.  The 
Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


80  John  Szarkowski 


If  Lange's  picture  would  have  been  inconceivable  to  Francis  Frith, 
I  think  this  picture,  this  subject,  by  Garry  Winogrand  would  have 
been  almost  as  startling  to  Lange.  For  while  her  subject  might  have 
been  at  least  approximately  preconceived  in  verbal  terms,  the  Wino- 
grand picture  depends  on  the  recognition  of  coherence  in  the  con- 
fluence of  forms  and  signs  that  could  not,  I  think,  have  been  antici- 
pated by  the  most  fertile  imagination.  This  coherence  cannot,  in  fact, 
be  understood  in  analytical  terms  while  the  photographer  is  working. 
At  this  level  of  complexity,  intelligence  must  become- visceral. 

The  history  of  photography  as  a  radical  picture  making  system, 
can  be  defined  as  the  history  of  the  definition  of  new  subjects.  Some- 
times these  new  subj  ects  are  extensions  of  ideas  that  exist  in  latent 
form  in  the  work  of  exceptional  photographers  of  an  earlier  genera- 
tion. Sometimes  they  are  genuinely  primitive  ideas  mothered  by  a 
new  technical  breakthrough  or  a  new  market  demand.  But  in  either 
case,  the  picture's  new  meaning  and  its  new  appearance  are  the  same. 

I  would  like  now  to  show  you  examples  from  three  bodies  of  work, 
very  different  in  their  motivation  and  appearance.  I'll  ask  you  to 
judge  for  yourselves  whether  or  not  their  content  is  separable  from 
their  aspect.  I  will  show  you  a  group  of  classical  newspaper  photo- 
graphs, some  pictures  by  the  great  French  photographer,  Eugene 
Atget,  and  some  recent  photo  postcards  by  a  young  American  pho- 
tographer named  Bill  Dane. 

News  photographs  might  well  be  an  especially  rewarding  area  for 
one  wishing  to  study  photography  in  its  most  basic  and  unadorned 
form.  Perhaps  the  reason  why  this  has  not  been  done  is  that  there  has 
been  considerable  doubt  as  to  whether  or  not  these  pictures  are  really 
art.  If  it  were  possible  to  avoid  this  question,  I  would  of  course  much 
prefer  to,  simply  because  it  is  not  the  most  interesting  or  the  most 
useful  question.  But  since  it  is  probably  not  possible  to  avoid  it,  let 
me  answer  it  quickly  and  say,  "Yes,  of  course  they  are  art."  Not  ter- 
ribly fine  art,  perhaps,  but  then  fineness  is  not  the  only  artistic  virtue. 

Before  attempting  to  define  what  their  subject  matter  is,  we 
should  first  clear  the  air  of  certain  misconceptions  by  defining  what 
it  is  not.  The  subject  of  news  photographs  is  not  news.  The  simplest 
way  of  demonstrating  this  once  and  for  all  would  be  to  persuade  a 
newspaper  publisher  to  reprint,  one  year  after  their  original  appear- 
ance, all  of  the  photographs  of  one  year  earlier,  with  slightly  varied 
captions.  I  don't  really  think  anyone  would  notice  the  difference.  I  do 
not  mean  to  suggest  that  newspaper  photographs  within  more  or  less 
standardized  categories  are  identical.  On  the  contrary,  they  are  no 
more  identical  than  the  visitations,  annunciations,  nativities,  cruci- 
fixions, depositions,  resurrections,  and  assumptions  of  fifteenth  cen- 
tury Italian  paintings.  News  photographs  are,  however,  similar  from 
day  to  day  and  year  to  year,  and  it  is  partly  in  this  similarity  that 
their  interest  lies.  A  social  historian  or  an  anthropologist  could 
surely  find  much  to  interest  him  in  the  structure  and  cultural  mean- 
ing of  news  photographs,  but  my  own  interest  is  a  good  deal  more 
modest.  I  am  interested  in  their  character  as  pictures,  by  which  I 
mean  their  iconographic  as  well  as  their  graphic  patterns. 

I  would  like  now  to  suggest  several  formal  characteristics  that 
seem  proper  to  the  entire  genre  and  consider  them  briefly  one  by  one. 
The  pictures  are  possessed  of  great  narrative  ambiguity:  without  the 
caption  one  is  never  quite  sure  what  is  happening.  They  are  hierar- 
chical and  formal:  what  information  comes  from  the  picture  itself  is 


81  John  Szarkowski 


given  within  the  confines  of  a  rigidly  conventionalized  technique. 
They  are  fragmentary  and  symbolic:  most  news  photographs  are,  in 
one  sense  or  another,  close-ups  that  do  not  pretend  to  describe  con- 
text. They  are  in  large  part  ceremonial:  they  deal  with  events  that 
would  not  have  occurred  had  they  not  been  newsworthy. 

First,  these  pictures  are  identified  by  great  narrative  ambiguity. 
Look  at  this  picture  and  decide  for  yourself  what  specific  drama  is 
being  played  out.  The  young  woman  on  the  right  is  the  daughter  of 
the  gentleman  on  the  left  who  has  j  ust  confessed  to  murdering  his 
wife,  the  girl's  mother.  Or,  he  is  the  father  of  the  girl's  late  lover 
whom  she  has  just  shot.  Or,  he  is  the  detective  who  has  just  arrested 
her  on  the  charge  of  possessing  a  gun  without  a  license.  Or  perhaps 
the  gun  has  nothing  to  do  with  the  case,  but  was  left  there  by  the 
policeman  who  lent  his  desk  to  the  distinguished  family  solicitor  on 
the  left.  Or  perhaps  the  photographer  put  the  gun  there  to  make  it  a 
better  picture.  I  apologize  for  not  being  able  to  tell  you  which,  if  any, 
of  these  stories  is  true.  We  did  try,  but  no  one  seems  to  remember 
what  the  picture  was  once  supposed  to  have  meant.  It  is  a  picture  that 
describes  the  smell  and  texture  of  bad  trouble  and  personal  tragedy. 
Its  concern  is  not  history,  but  poetry. 


Ed  Morgan,  Pittsburgh  Sun-Telegraph, 

n.d. 


These  pictures  are  not  natural,  but  formal.  Their  true  content  is 
determined  largely  by  the  photographic  and  journalistic  disciplines 
that  create  them;  or  to  put  it  more  simply,  their  function  follows  their 
form.  For  example,  a  classic  news  photograph  describes  an  event  that 
takes  place  in  a  flat  and  shallow  space  about  twelve  feet  in  front  of 
the  camera.  This  plane  is  determined  not,  of  course,  by  the  objective 
nature  of  historical  events,  but  by  the  preferences  of  photographers' 
equipment,  the  limitations  of  newspaper  reproduction,  and  the  pace 
at  which  the  photographer  works,  all  of  which  encourage  trust  in 
tried  and  true  formulas. 


82  John  Szarkowski 


John  J.  Reidy,  Murderer  Steps  into 
Patrol  Wagon,  New  York  Daily  Mirror 
n.d. 

Paul  Bernius,  Stephen  Baltz,  11,  of 
Willmette,  Illinois,  lies  critically  in- 
jured on  Seventh  Avenue,  near  Ster- 
ling Place,  Brooklyn.  He  was  the  sole 
survivor  in  a  two  plane  collision  which 
claimed  more  than  130  lives  in  the 
worst  air  tragedy  in  New  York  City, 
New  York  Daily  News,  17  December 
1960. 

Photographer  unknown,  Charles  Van 
Doren  Winning  $104,500  on  the  T.V. 
quiz  show,  "Twenty-One,"  UPI, 
21  January  1959. 


These  pictures  are  fragmentary  and  symbolic.  Sometimes  they 
are  symbolic  of  genuinely  significant  events;  much  more  often  they 
symbolize  conditions  of  life  that  are  no  more  newsworthy  than  tears. 
The  generic  morals  of  these  pictures  are  generally  simple  to  the  point 
of  banality;  but  the  pictures  themselves  are  not  banal,  for  each  re- 
tells the  silly  old  story  with  a  slightly  different  set  of  specifics,  a  dif- 
ferent texture  of  feeling,  a  different  unique  face,  a  new  gesture.  No 
two  felons  cower  quite  the  same;  every  detective  wears  his  superior- 
ity with  a  slightly  different  style;  the  ubiquitous  greedy  spectator  is 
unendingly  fascinating.  In  the  best  of  these  pictures  these  various 


83  John  Szarkowski 


signs  and  symbols  come  together  with  perfect  economy  and  surprise 
to  create  not  merely  a  catalogue  of  visual  description,  but  a  picture. 

Most  of  these  photographs  are  ceremonial.  A  good  share  of  them 
are  frankly  ceremonial,  by  which  I  mean  that  the  ceremony  would 
have  occurred  in  approximately  the  same  form  even  if  photogra- 
phers had  not  been  there  to  publicize  it,  as  illustrated  by  baseball 
games,  prize  fights,  and  courtroom  trials.  Other  kinds  of  events,  once 
extemporized  according  to  the  logical  requirements  of  the  event  it- 
self, are  now  planned  according  to  the  requirements  of  photography. 
Most  news  is  managed  news.  Generally,  however,  the  news  is  man- 
aged not  to  conform  to  a  philosophical  or  a  political  standard  so  much 
as  it  is  managed  to  conform  to  the  requirements  of  the  techniques  by 
which  one  reports  it.  In  our  literate  past,  many  events,  doubtless, 
were  arranged  or  rearranged  so  that  they  might  be  written  about  by 
the  poet  laureate  or  the  court  historian.  Today  events  occur  so  that 
they  can  be  photographed. 

One  of  the  great  charms  of  early  news  photographs  is  that  one 
can't  tell  which  ones  are  posed  and  which  ones  are  not.  This  picture 
is  clearly  posed.*  The  personae  have  been  rearranged  to  fit  more 
economically  within  the  frame  of  the  picture.  Later  on  it  becomes 
more  difficult  to  tell  which  pictures  are  arranged,  or  at  what  point  in 
history  they  are  arranged.  The  sincerity  of  this  picture,  to  me,  is  sim- 
ply beyond  challenge.  The  surprise  and  delight  of  the  contestant  and 
the  sympathetic  joy  of  the  TV  host  at  the  contestant's  miraculously 
correct  answer  to  the  unanswerable  $104,500  question  are  not  open  to 
doubt.  Even  after  having  been  told  that  Mr.  Van  Doren's  encyclope- 
dic knowledge  was  assisted  by  a  little  judicious  prompting,  we  do  not 
really  disbelieve  the  evidence  of  the  picture.  I  have  been  trying  to 
persuade  you  that  the  subjects  of  news  photographs  are  precisely 
what  they  appear  to  be,  and  that  it  is  only  the  captions  and  the  edi- 
torial page  that  have  made  us  believe  otherwise. 

The  gulf  that  separates  a  photographer  like  Arthur  Fellig,  known 
as  Weegee,  perhaps  the  greatest  of  all  news  photographers,  from  a 
photographer  like  Eugene  Atget,  who  was  perhaps  simply  the  best  of 
all  photographers,  is  a  gulf  that  separates  a  great  natural  talent  from 
a  profound,  original  intelligence.  Since  Atget  did  not  himself  write 
manifestos,  it  is  assumed  that  he  was  a  talented  primitive  who  wan- 
dered aimlessly  through  Paris,  intuitively  making  wonderful  pic- 
tures which  were  beyond  his  own  comprehension.  The  pictures  them- 
selves, some  3000  of  which  are  now  in  the  collection  of  the  Museum  of 
Modern  Art,  do  not  support  this  view.  They  suggest,  on  the  contrary, 
a  man  who  understood  that  photography  could  be  a  precise,  critical 
tool,  a  system  with  which  an  artist  could  define  exactly  what  he 
thought  to  be  true. 

The  general  and  encompassing  theme  of  Atget's  work  was  his 
own  visual  life.  As  an  adopted  Parisian  who  loved  his  city,  his  visual 
life  was  inextricably  intertwined  with  Paris  and  with  his  deep  appre- 
ciation of  the  fruits  of  traditional  French  culture.  But  he  knew  the 
difference  between  an  idea  and  a  sentiment.  He  knew  that  while  Paris 
was  his  arena,  his  subject  was  precisely  what  he  defined  within  the 
7x9  inches  of  his  little  pictures. 


'Editor's  note:  Photograph  referred  to  is  the  Gloria  Trumpeteers,  photographer 
unknown,  Underwood  and  Underwood,  May  8,  1930,  in :  John  Szarkowski,  From 
the  Picture  Press.  New  York:  The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  1973,  p.  9. 


84   John  Szarkowski 


I^j^n 


Bill  Dane,  Berkeley,  California,  27 
April  1973.  The  Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


Atget  often  made  more  than  one  picture  of  the  same  subject.*  He 
returned  again  and  again  to  the  trees  of  St.  Cloud  and  Versailles  be- 
cause he  knew  that  an  infinite  number  of  beautiful  pictures  were  po- 
tential in  them.  And  he  knew  also  that  none  of  these  images  was  true 
in  the  sense  that  it  shared  a  privileged  identity  with  the  object  photo- 
graphed. He  did  not  confuse  the  subject  with  the  object;  he  under- 
stood that  the  true  subject  is  defined  by  the  picture.  If  the  tree  is  the 
same,  the  subject  is  always  different. 

Atget  was  concerned  with  complexity  and  the  relativity  of  form. 
The  breadth  of  his  interests  reminds  us  of  the  Encyclopedists  of  the 
Enlightenment,  but  the  quality  of  his  sensibility  seems  prophetically 
modern.  The  perspectives  of  his  mind  were  Copernican  rather  than 
Platonic;  he  worked  not  from,  but  toward  a  formal  idea.  His  concep- 
tion of  form  was  not  nuclear,  but  galactic,  relative,  plural,  dynamic, 
provisional,  and  potential. 

Four  or  five  years  ago,  a  young  California  painter  named  Bill 
Dane  discovered  photography  and  instantly  set  out  to  practice  it  with 
enormous  enthusiasm  and  generosity.  The  generosity  expressed 
itself  in  the  form  of  a  massive  barrage  of  photographic  postcards 
which  he  sent  without  obligation  and,  I  suspect,  often  without  ac- 
knowledgment, to  what  would  seem  to  be  an  enormous  mailing  list. 
This  is  not  the  manner  in  which  artists  have  traditionally  subsidized 
their  public;  so  it  is  perhaps  not  surprising  that  when  a  few  critics  did 
begin  to  take  cognizance  of  Dane's  work,  they  tended  to  be  more 
interested  in  the  fact  of  the  postcards  than  in  the  pictures  that  they 
carried.  But  the  real  reason  that  I  like  Dane's  postcards  is  the  fact 
that  they  have,  I  think,  beautiful  pictures  on  them,  pictures  that  de- 
fine new  subjects.  It  seems  to  me  that  the  subject  of  Bill  Dane's  pic- 
tures is  the  discovery  of  lyric  beauty  in  Oakland,  or  the  discovery  of 
surprise  and  delight  in  what  we  had  been  told  was  a  wasteland  of 
boredom,  the  discovery  of  classical  measure  in  the  heart  of  God's  own 
junkyard,  the  discovery  of  a  kind  of  optimism,  still  available  at  least 
to  the  eye. 

The  trouble  and  the  good  part  is  that  these  new  subjects  are  de- 
fined in  visual  terms,  and  no  matter  how  patiently  we  thumb  through 
our  thesauruses,  we  will  not  quite  reconstruct  them  with  words.  The 
same  thing  is,  of  course,  true  of  the  news  pictures  and  of  those  by 
Atget;  but  in  those  cases,  at  a  slightly  greater  historical  remove,  it  is 
easier  to  pay  the  pictures  the  compliment  of  affectionate  and  know- 
ing gossip.  Much  of  the  content  of  these  pictures  is  concerned,  I  think, 
with  a  kind  of  visual  play,  and  therefore  with  agility,  surprise,  bal- 
ance, unexpected  moves,  and  grace.  The  subjects  of  the  pictures  are 
these  virtues  in  themselves,  and  also  the  fact  that  these  virtues  can 
flower  in  such  unlikely  circumstances.  At  first  acquaintance,  the  pic- 
tures might  seem  casual.  I  believe,  on  the  contrary,  that  their  very 
point  and  purpose  is  order.  Like  much  of  the  best  photography  being 
done  today,  they  concern  photography's  ability  to  know  and  rational- 
ize reaches  of  our  visual  life  that  are  so  subtle,  fugitive,  and  intuitive 
that  until  now  they  have  been  undefinable  and  unshareable. 


'Editor's  note :  For  a  complete  discussion  of  a  series  of  Atget's  trees,  which  was  out- 
lined in  more  detail  in  the  evening  lecture,  see:  John  Szarkowski,  "Atget's  Trees," 
One  Hundred  Years  of  Photographic  History:  Essays  in  Honor  of  Beaumont  New- 
hall,  ed.  Van  Deren  Coke.  Albuquerque :  University  of  New  Mexico  Press,  1975,  pp. 
161-167. 


85  John  Szarkowski 


Excerpts  from  the  day  seminars 

The  basic  thing  I  was  trying  to  suggest  last  night  is  a  very  simple 
idea,  which  is,  fundamentally,  that  there  are  not  two  different  ways 
to  say  the  same  thing.  You  can  say  similar  things  in  two  different 
ways,  but  you  cannot  say  the  same  thing. 

These  two  pictures  are  both  by  Dorothea  Lange.  She  did  the 
prints;  this  is  not  a  detail  that  I  pulled  out  of  her  pictures  or  that  any- 
body else  pulled  out  of  her  pictures.  I  never  want  you  to  think  of  these 
two  pictures  as  being  the  same  subject.  They're  not.  They  are  just  the 
same  subj  ect  matter  in  some  kind  of  very  vague,  amorphous  way. 
Subject  matter  is  raw  materials,  not  the  subject.  The  picture  on  the 
right  is  the  full  4  x  5  or  3V4  x  4V4  graflex  negative.  A  good  many 
years  later,  she  decided  that  she  should  get  in  closer  and  make  it 
more  important,  and  she  did  the  picture  on  the  left.  Finally,  near  the 
very  end  of  her  life,  she  decided  that  that  was  a  mistake  and  went 
back  to  the  picture  on  the  right.  You  shouldn't  have  to  know  that 
whatever  this  building  was  built  as,  it  was  being  used  as  a  church.  In 
some  sense,  you  should  be  able  to  feel  it.  The  picture  itself — what  it 
shows  you,  the  way  it  describes  it  to  you — should  somehow  manage 
to  be  an  equivalent  for  the  sense. 

It's  always  just  a  photograph.  It's  describing  one's  sense  of  what 
was  there;  describing  what  was  there  is  hopeless,  it's  impossible.  If 
you  begin  worrying  about  that,  you're  lost.  There  are  a  thousand  dif- 
ferent possibilities,  none  of  which  will  describe  what  was  there — 

When  choosing  pictures  for  an  exhibition,  the  photographer  and 
I  will  overlap  eighty  per  cent  on  the  first  try.  Fundamentally,  it  is  a 
matter  of  trying  to  trace  the  way  that  these  individual  pictures  relate 
somehow  to  a  common  concern  and  a  longer  line  of  how  it  is  possible 
to  use  this  interesting  and  funny  machine  to  clarify  with  some  kind 
of  grace  the  nature  of  experience.  That's  the  unstated  question  you're 
always  asking  yourself;  taste  has  nothing  to  do  with  it.  With  the  other 
twenty  per  cent  we  kind  of  split  the  difference,  argue  about  them 
sometimes  until  one  person  or  the  other  is  persuaded.  When  we  were 
doing  Dorothea  Lange's  big  retrospective,  she  was  dying.  I  was  not 
looking  forward  to  the  prospect  of  fighting  with  her  about  which  pic- 
tures, but  she  made  it  instantly  clear  that  we  were  going  to  fight 
about  it.  By  and  large,  most  of  the  time  we  saw  eighty  per  cent  eye  to 
eye,  but  once  in  a  while  she  would  want  to  use  a  picture  that  seemed 
to  me  to  be  boring.  She  wanted  to  use  it  because  of  all  kinds  of  irrele- 
vant attachments,  and  I  would  say,  "No,  Dorothea,  don't  ask  me  to 
put  that  picture  in  the  exhibition.  It's  not  an  interesting  picture."  She 
would  say  something  like,  "Listen  to  me  young  man,  you  were  in 
knee  pants  and  I  was  there,  and  that  was  a  very  important  day.  That 
was  the  day  that  men  first  lined  up  to  get  their  first  social  security 
payments."  She  would  give  me  a  long  speech  about  how  important 
it  was,  and  I  would  say,  "All  right,  you  stand  in  front  of  that  picture 
during  the  twelve  weeks  of  the  exhibition  and  make  that  speech,  blue 
eyes  flashing  at  everybody  who  walks  through  the  museum.  Then  it 
will  be  a  good  picture;  otherwise,  without  the  speech,  it's  not  a  good 
picture."  You  have  to  really  go  to  the  pictures  without  having  read 
the  backs  of  them  first  to  find  out  what  the  difference  is  between  the 
picture  and  the  caption. . . . 

Most  of  the  attempts  to  use  photographs  and  words  together  are 
failures  because  people  try  to  say  the  same  thing  both  ways.  If  you 
try  to  do  that,  you  are  either  relegating  the  photographs  to  the  f  unc- 

86   John  Szarkowski 


Dorothea  Lange,  Grayson,  San  Joaquin 
Valley,  California,  1938  (cropped  ver- 
sion) .  The  Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


Dorothea  Lange,  Grayson,  San  Joaquin 
Valley,  California,  1938  The  Museum 
of  Modern  Art. 


. , 


87  John  Szarkowski 


Walker  Evans,  Cotton  Sharecropper, 
Hale  County,  Alabama.  1936.  The 
Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


88    John  Szarkowski 


Walker  Evans,  Cotton  Sharecropper, 
Hale  County,  Alabama,  1936  (variant 
negative) .  The  Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


89  John  Szarkowski 


tion  of  illustrations  or  you  are  relegating  the  words  to  the  function  of 
captions.  Either  one  of  these  things  makes  impossible  the  kind  of  real 
collaborative,  separate  but  equal,  independent  status  that  the  pic- 
tures and  the  text  should  both  have. 

The  relationship  between  the  pictures  and  the  text  is  generally 
brilliant  in  An  American  Exodus  because  Lange  and  Taylor  don't  try 
to  use  the  words  and  the  pictures  to  mean  the  same  thing.  Dorothea 
was  a  marvelous  writer.  She  wrote  very  well,  and  very  carefully.  And 
she  did  very  good  field  notes.  I  suspect  that  she  worked  them  over  too, 
after  she  got  home.  Paul  Taylor  was  a  proper,  trained  social  scientist 
and  believed  you  wrote  down  all  the  facts  right  then,  before  you  for- 
got them.  He  was  doubtless  a  very  good  influence  on  Dorothea  in  that 

respect. . . . 

A  lot  of  you  know  this  picture  on  the  left  from  Let  Us  Now  Praise 
Famous  Men  or  from  other  Walker  Evans  sources.  Very  few  people 
know  that  this  man  had  a  twin  brother,  a  nicer  fellow,  not  so  intelli- 
gent, but  sweeter.  I  love  to  look  at  these  two  photographs  as  an  ex- 
ample of  how  fine  you  can  slice  it  and  what  a  difference  it  can  make. 
Which  is  the  better  picture?  [Student  response:  "The  one  on  the 
left."!  Sure  it  is.  The  next  thing  you  would  ask  is  "Why  are  the  two 
men  different?  Why  are  they  different  subjects?"  You  ask  yourself 
technical  questions  just  like  any  other  kind  of  art  historian.  You  ask 
"What's  the  difference?"  and  the  difference  is  the  flash  fill.  Evans 
used  a  flashbulb  for  the  one  on  the  right,  and  you  see  into  those  eyes. 
They  don't  become  those  opaque,  really  frighteningly  anonymous  lit- 
tle black  slits.  The  whole  quality  of  the  rendering  of  his  face  is  soft- 
ened by  that  flash  filling  in  those  shadows,  smoothing  the  contours 
of  his  face.  Also  with  the  flash  you  stop  down  a  little  bit,  so  the  ren- 
dering of  the  background  is  different;  the  boards  behind  are  a  little 
sharper,  the  ears  are  sharper.  You  can  go  through  and  make  a  long 
list  of  what  physically  are  the  differences  between  these  two. 

I  don't  mean  to  suggest  that  what  these  two  pictures  share  is  not 
more  important  than  their  differences.  What  these  two  subjects  have 
in  common  is,  of  course,  more  important  than  the  very  subtle  differ- 
ences between  them.  My  guess  would  be  that  if  there  had  been  some 
kind  of  disaster  on  the  negative  on  the  left,  it's  perfectly  possible,  I 
think  probable,  that  Walker  still  would  have  liked  the  picture  on  the 
right  enough  to  use  it.  Photographers  are  always  dealing,  if  they're 
really  good,  with  circumstances  that  are  only  barely  and  marginally 
under  control.  If  you're  only  going  to  make  photographs  that  you  can 
absolutely  and  precisely  predict,  if  you  can  really  absolutely  pre- 
visualize  it,  why  make  it? 

People  who  are  not  photographers  do  not  realize  how  fast  and  ir- 
retrievably things  change,  even  in  tiny  subtle  ways.  What  Ansel 
Adams  is  dealing  with  is  just  as  ephemeral  as  what  Cartier-Bresson 
was  dealing  with,  or  what  Garry  Winogrand  is  doing.  And  it  doesn't 
have  to  be  the  waves  splashing  on  the  surf;  it  can  just  be  the  quality 

of  the  light 

Of  the  kind  of  hard-core  modern  twenties  artists  who  worked  in 
photography,  I  think  Moholy,  in  many  ways,  has  a  lot  more  juice  in 
him  now  to  be  made  use  of  than  most  of  the  others.  There  is  some- 
thing in  Moholy  which  is  very  usable.  It  has  to  do  with  a  terrific  sense 
of  openness  toward  the  machinery,  toward  the  medium,  and  almost 
a  great  pleasure  in  what  the  camera  could  do  that  he  didn't  com- 
pletely understand.  He  welcomed  it,  he  courted  it— the  wonderful 


90  John  Szarkowski 


Lazlo  Moholy-Nagy,  Spring,  Berlin, 
1928.  The  Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


kinds  of  little  visual  jokes,  ambiguities,  surprises  that  are  in  his  pic- 
tures that,  on  one  level,  he  managed  to  make  clear. 

For  ten  years  I  thought  that  man  was  in  the  tree,  and  then  for 
about  five  years  I  thought  that  no,  he  was  not  in  the  tree,  he  was  on 
the  ground.  It  turns  out  he  is  in  the  tree.  The  picture  has  got  to  do 
with  something  that  certainly  Moholy  was  not  totally  and  absolutely 
in  all  of  its  aspects  conscious  of  when  he  made  it.  It's  an  exploration; 
it's  enormously  complicated,  as  most  photographs  are.  There's  an 
awful  lot  going  on.  You  try  to  keep  all  of  the  oranges  in  the  air  as  best 
you  can,  and  once  in  a  while  it  works.  Then  you've  got  a  good  one,  and 
that  improves  the  sensitization  of  your  reactions.  There's  a  quality 
of  confrontation  in  Moholy's  pictures,  the  presence  of  a  problem  that 
hasn't  absolutely  been  solved  to  death.  A  lot  of  photographs  about 
which  one  can  say  absolutely  nothing  bad  are  still  j  ust  not  interesting 
pictures  because  there  was  never  any  risk.  You  feel  that  the  photog- 
rapher had  the  solutions,  but  he  had  no  problem — 

In  terms  of  what  they  feel  is  of  use  to  them,  the  good  artists  have 
a  very  strong,  not  necessarily  obj  ective,  sense  of  j  ust  exactly  what  has 
been  done  and  where  the  end  of  the  diving  board  is,  today,  right  now, 
this  morning.  It's  the  hobbyist,  then,  who  keeps  coming  in  with  bad, 
third-rate  imitations  of  things  people  did  marvelously  well  in  the 


91   John  Szarkowski 


twenties,  thinking  that  he  has  done  something  original.  I  think  that 
one  of  the  things  that  characterizes  the  attitudes  of  people  who  seem 
to  me  to  be  bright  and  open,  sophisticated  young  photographers  is 
their  much  more  catholic  interest  in  the  tradition.  They  are  looking 
at  a  much  wider  range  of  kinds  of  pictures  and  are  much  less  con- 
cerned with  whether  or  not  the  picture,  on  the  surface  of  it,  is  clearly 
and  unmistakably  identifiable  as  art. . . . 

Part  of  what  I've  been  trying  to  talk  about  probably  derives  from 
a  long  series  of  my  own  misunderstandings  over  the  course  of  many 
years  of  being  interested  in  photography.  I  first  saw  this  picture  when 
I  was  a  little  kid.  It  was  titled,  End  of  an  Era,  and  there  was  no  doubt 
in  my  mind  whatsoever  about  what  the  subject  matter  of  that  photo- 
graph was — who  that  woman  was  in  her  chauffeur-driven  elegant 
automobile  looking  down  at  the  pedestrian  through  that  beautiful 
round  window,  with  the  hand  protecting  her  nose  from  any  possible 
offense  from  the  street.  I  thought  that  was  marvelous,  the  way  that 
photographer  had  pinned  her  to  the  specimen  board  like  a  moth.  I 
kept  on  thinking  that  was  the  subj  ect  of  the  photograph  until  thirty 
or  so  years  later,  when  I  was  working  with  Lange  on  her  exhibition. 
For  the  very  first  time  in  my  life  I  found  a  full  caption  to  the  picture.  It 
was  End  of  an  Era,  Funeral  Cortege  in  a  Small  Valley  Town,  and  my 
philosophical  sense  of  what  the  content  of  the  picture  was  was  ab- 
solutely totally  destroyed,  instantly.  The  picture  didn't  change,  and 
my  love  of  the  picture  and  my  pleasure  in  the  picture  didn't  change; 


Dorothea  Lange,  Funeral  Cortege,  End 
of  an  Era  in  a  Small  Valley  Town, 
California,  1938.  The  Museum  of 
Modern  Art. 


92  John  Szarkowski 


Henri  Cartier-Bresson,  Children 
Playing  in  Ruins,  Seville,  1933.  The 
Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


I  didn't  have  to  abandon  the  picture  because  it  meant  something  dif- 
ferent— it  was  now  grief  I  was  looking  at  instead  of  some  other  emo- 
tion. It  was  an  interesting  lesson. 

I  have  a  whole  string  of  those  misconceptions.  For  years  I  thought 
that  all  those  Cartier-Bresson  pictures  of  the  children  playing  in  the 
ruins  in  Seville  were  from  the  Spanish  War:  children  playing  in  the 
midst  of  this  cruelly  bombed-out  city.  I  was  a  photographer  in  those 
days,  not  a  curator,  and  I  didn't  have  to  look  closely  at  the  dates.  But 
those  pictures  were  done  four  years  before  the  war  started.  It  finally 
sank  through  my  head  that  if  I  wanted  to  fasten  some  kind  of  larger 
social,  political,  philosophical  record  to  them,  it  would  have  to  be 
something  other  than  the  war  or  fascism  or  the  United  Front  because 
the  pictures  were  four  years  premature.  But  they  haven't  changed 
either 

I  don't  think  complete  ignorance  is  possible;  I  don't  even  think  it's 
advisable.  If  we  weren't  willing  and  interested  in  trying,  attempting 
to  deal  with  the  pictures  intellectually,  there  would  be  no  point  in 
talking  about  them  because  that's  fundamentally  the  only  way  we 
can  try  to  deal  with  them — in  words,  by  talking  about  them.  And  I 
don't  in  any  way  mean  to  suggest  that  these  are  purely  abstract  con- 
structions that  have  their  meaning  enclosed  completely  within  their 
frame  and  do  not  reverberate  outside  in  the  rest  of  the  whole  world 
of  our  knowledge  and  our  sensibility.  How  boring  that  would  be,  how 
terribly  dry  and  limited.  But  it  is  important  to  make  the  distinction 
between  what  is  inside  the  picture  and  what  is  outside  the  picture. 
Then  we  can  allow  the  photograph  to  release  and  enliven  our  knowl- 
edge or  memory  or  sensibility  so  that  we  can  make  different  kinds  of 
connections  with  what  we  already  know  and  what  we  didn't  know 
until  we  looked  at  the  picture,  in  terms  of  what  is  in  the  picture. 

I  think  what  a  good  picture  does  is  demand  your  attention.  That 
doesn't  mean  every  good  picture  is  going  to  stop  you  on  the  street  like 
the  Ancient  Mariner.  Sometimes  you  have  to  be  a  little  more  open  to 
it,  and  it  takes  a  little  more  time  for  it  to  persuade  you  that  it's  a  really 
good  picture;  but  once  it  persuades  you,  what  it  wins  by  that  is  your 
attention.  You  try  to  bring  as  much  of  yourself  to  it  as  you  can.  In  the 


93   John  Szarkowski 


Dorothea  Lange,  Migrant  Mother, 
Nipomo,  California,  1936.  The  Museum 
of  Modern  Art. 


Diana  Thorne,  Spanish  Mother,  The 
Terror  of  1938,  lithograph,  1939.  The 
Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


94   John  Szarkowski 


course  of  a  lifetime  you  might  make  up  a  hundred  different  stories 
about  the  same  picture,  all  of  which  are  indefensible  but  each  of 
which  is  a  kind  of  compliment. 

One  could  do  very  interesting  research  about  all  of  the  ways  that 
the  Migrant  Mother  has  been  used;  all  of  the  ways  that  it  has  been 
doctored,  painted  over,  made  to  look  Spanish  and  Russian;  and  all 
the  things  it  has  been  used  to  prove.  It's  interesting  because  the  pic- 
ture is  almost  totally  ambiguous.  If  one  tried  to  define  precisely  what 
that  photograph  documents,  one  could  not  locate  it  in  any  given  dec- 
ade, one  could  not  with  any  confidence  describe  the  condition  of  this 
woman  and  her  family  as  being  desperately  poor.  Certainly  one  of 
the  terribly  interesting  things  about  pictures  is  that  they  do  attract 
to  themselves  wonderful  rich  bodies  of  speculation  and  superstition 
and  fairy  tale  that,  for  better  or  worse,  are  part  of  what  we're  going 
to  do  to  things  that  interest  us. 


95   John  Szaekowski 


W.  Eugene 
Smith 


Born  in  1918,  in  Wichita,  Kansas, 
Smith's  early  interest  in  photographing 
airplanes  led  to  work  for  local  news- 
papers during  his  high  school  years.  In 
1936  he  entered  the  University  of  Notre 
Dame  on  a  unique  photography  schol- 
arship; he  left  for  New  York  after  one 
semester.  After  a  brief  stay  with 
Newsweek  Smith  joined  the  staff  of 
Life  in  1939.  Discontented  with  his 
assignments  and  with  Life's  shallow 
treatment  of  its  material,  Smith 
resigned  in  1941.  Interest  in  World  War 
II  ended  his  freelance  activity  and  after 
some  wartime  experience  on  special 
assignments  for  various  publications 
he  rejoined  Life's  staff  in  1944  as  a  war 
correspondent  in  the  Pacific.  Badly 
wounded  in  1945  on  Okinawa  while 
working  on  a  story,  he  returned  to  New 
York.  "The  Walk  to  Paradise  Garden," 
a  picture  of  his  two  children,  marked 
the  end  of  two  years  of  forced  inactivity 
during  convalescence.  A  rich  period 
of  work  for  Life  followed,  to  be  ended 
by  a  dispute  over  the  handling  of  "A 
Man  of  Mercy,"  an  article  on  Albert 
Schweitzer.  This  dispute  resulted  in 
Smith's  resignation  in  1954.  He  joined 
Magnum  Photos,  and  received  two 
Guggenheim  Fellowships  while  work- 
ing on  an  essay  begun  in  1955  on  the 
city  of  Pittsburgh.  Various  independent 
projects,  teaching  positions,  and  prep- 
aration of  a  book  meant  to  encompass 
his  life's  work  entitled  The  Walk  to 
Paradise  Garden  occupied  his  time 
during  this  period  of  general  recogni- 
tion. In  1961  he  began  working  in 
Japan.  In  1963  he  was  appointed  to  the 
President's  Committee  on  Photography. 
He  was  awarded  a  third  Guggenheim 
Fellowship  in  1969.  Smith  married 
again  in  1971  and  with  his  wife,  Aileen, 
began  three  and  a  half  years  of  work 
in  Minamata,  which  was  interrupted  in 
early  1972  when  he  was  badly  beaten 
up  while  photographing.  The  book, 
Minamata,  appeared  in  1975. 


< 

f 

V"' 

v    ' 

*> 

F  <£*'•  j*  * 

96   W.  Eugene  Smith 


NewYork.1971. 


I  started  when  I  was  fourteen.  I  wanted  to  be  an  aircraft  designer.  I 
took  up  photography  so  that  I  could  photograph  the  planes  that  were 
coming  through  Wichita,  Kansas,  where  I  was  born.  Within  about  six 
weeks  I  was  publishing  pictures  in  the  local  newspaper.  And  then  I 
became  much  more  interested  in  photography  than  in  the  designing 
of  planes.  In  that  way  I  was  very  lucky  because  I  never  had  to  design 
a  war  plane,  which  made  me  feel  rather  good. 

The  first  things  that  I  photographed  were  mostly  in  two  catego- 
ries: one  was  sports;  and  the  other  was  the  dust  bowl,  dust  storms, 
and  drought.  I've  always  credited  the  photographing  of  sports  as 
giving  me  a  head  start  in  the  matter  of  the  reflex  timing  that  is 
needed  in  most  photography.  I  still  like  to  photograph  sports,  or  I  like 
to  photograph  out  of  a  train  window  or  a  car  window,  just  to  keep 
my  reflexes  working  at  high  tension.  I  learned  to  photograph  this 
way  until  quite  a  few  pictures  seemed  to  me  j  ust  about  as  well  com- 
posed as  any  other  pictures  of  mine.  This  development  of  a  strong 
sense  of  timing  has  been  very  helpful  in  almost  any  kind  of  partici- 
patory photography  that  I  have  done.  The  other,  the  dust  bowl 
photography,  as  people  called  it,  matured  me  very  early  in  life.  I 
was  really  photographing  the  destruction  of  my  own  family  as  well 
as  the  destruction  of  an  entire  area.  I  had  the  right  in  school  to  get  up 
and  leave  any  class  at  any  time  and  go  out  and  photograph.  All  I  had 
to  do  was  just  excuse  myself,  but  with  the  promised  condition  that  I 
kept  my  grades  up.  I  would  see  a  dust  storm  coming  up  and  I  would 
say  "excuse  me."  This  was  when  I  was  fourteen,  fifteen,  sixteen. 

Then  when  I  was  seventeen  the  University  of  Notre  Dame  created 
a  photographic  scholarship  for  me.  I'm  afraid  I  only  lasted  one 


97  W.  Eugene  Smith 


semester,  leaving  on  Washington's  birthday.  I  wouldn't  have  left 
Notre  Dame,  probably,  but  for  the  fact  that  I  flunked  history.  I  mean, 
according  to  the  teacher.  And  since  history  was  my  strong  subject, 
I  didn't  quite  understand  how  I  had  flunked  it.  I  had  gone  in,  looked 
at  the  questions,  sat  down,  and  I  wrote  for  three  hours,  I  think.  I  got 
it  back  and  it  said  sixty-six.  And  I  asked  the  teacher,  "Is  there  some 
mistake?"  I  just  couldn't  see  how  I  could  have  gotten  such  a  low 
grade.  I  never  got  such  a  tongue-lashing  in  my  life,  daring  to  ques- 
tion the  teacher.  So  I  walked  right  out  of  the  history  class.  I  was  so 
furious,  and  I  wanted  to  leave  anyway.  I  walked  over  to  the  Western 
Union  office  and  sent  my  mother  a  wire  and  told  her  I  was  going  to 
New  York.  When  I  got  to  New  York,  I  got  a  letter  from  my  roommate 
saying,  "Ha,  ha.  You  were  right  and  he  was  wrong.  You  had  a  ninety- 
six."  Such  small  things  can  change  the  course  of  a  life.  I  went  to  work 
for  Newsweek  and  was  fired  for  using  a  small  camera— a  2Vi  x  2% , 
not  a  35.  Well,  they  were  very  old  fashioned  at  the  time.  They  wanted 
a  Speed  Graphic  camera,  not  a  small  2xk  x2xA.  They  were  afraid  of 
it,  I  think.  They  forbade  me  to  use  a  small  camera  on  an  assignment, 
any  assignment.  I  like  the  big  camera;  I  like  the  small  camera.  But,  I 
decided  that  the  small  camera  was  much  better  suited  to  the  job.  And 
so  I  photographed  with  a  small  camera.  Without  even  looking  at  the 
pictures,  they  said,  "What  camera  did  you  use?"  And  it  was  lucky, 
too,  that  they  fired  me,  because  then  I  started  working  for  Life. 

There  are  many  stories  as  to  why  Life  folded.  One  was  that  they 
were  losing  so  much  money.  My  personal  opinion  is  that  Life  would 
not  have  had  to  fold  if  they  had  edited  differently.  In  other  words, 
I'm  still  carrying  on  the  same  battle  with  them  that  I've  carried  on  all 
through  the  years.  In  the  early  fifties  I  used  to  tell  them,  "I  just  don't 
see  how  you  can  continue  to  live,  unless  you  change  your  attitude  of 
editing  and  unless  you  can  do  more  stories  that  have  the  depth  and 
the  compelling  power  to  gain  your  readers  and  really  hold  them." 
And  frankly,  my  stories  were  among  the  most  successful  that  Life 
ever  used.  I  had  to  fight  for  all  of  them  to  get  publication.  If  they  had 
just  treated  many  other  subjects  with  greater  depth  and  greater  feel- 
ing— instead  of,  in  the  end,  considerable  superficiality — I  think  they 
would  have  survived. 

I  have  a  letter  from  Life  which  said  something  about  "your  friends 
here  at  Life  have  decided  you  either  cannot  or  will  not  be  saved." 
When  Life  folded  I  was  in  Tokyo  and  was  told  about  it  on  the  plat- 
form of  a  subway  station.  I  felt  very  badly  about  it,  but  that  sentence 
crossed  my  mind  because  when  I  had  said  to  Life,  "I  don't  see  how  you 
can  continue  to  live,"  I  never  expected  them  to  go  out  of  business.  It 
was  not  really  a  question;  I  really  believed  they  were  unshakable. 

As  to  my  photography  of  human  beings,  compared  to  Life's  usual 
approach,  it  is  a  lot  harder  to  do  it  my  way.  I  j  ust  simply  wanted  to 
give  the  time  and  the  effort  to  take  the  superficiality  out  of  a  story. 
After  I  did,  Life  often  would  bring  back  that  superficiality. 

They  came  up  with  many  fresh  ideas,  but  too  often  they  treated  a 
fresh  idea  in  the  same  old  way.  Too  often,  especially  in  the  earlier 
days,  they  would  issue  scripts  including  what  photographs  should  be 
made.  These  would  be  written  by  generally  inexperienced  individ- 
uals in  the  main  office,  perhaps  1,500  or  2,000  miles  away  from  the 
individuals  in  the  story.  If  a  script  said  a  farmer  in  South  Dakota 
went  to  his  outhouse  every  morning  at  3:00  am— even  though  he  had 


98   W.  Eugene  Smith 


the  most  modern  of  toilets — the  photographs  very  likely  would  show 
him  going  to  his  neighbor's  outhouse.  I  just,  well,  read  the  script  and 
threw  it  away.  It  was  a  hell  of  a  way  to  run  a  magazine  "of  reality." 

My  attitude  almost  always  was  friendly  towards  Life;  in  spite  of 
their  faults  and  failures  they  were  a  great  magazine;  otherwise  it 
would  not  have  been  worth  the  fight.  The  resignation  over  the 
Schweitzer  essay — it  was  a  battle  over  the  right  of  responsibility  for 
my  reportage,  I  was  bluntly  saying  they  could  not  run  a  story  of  mine 
and  distort  it,  and  I  resigned  trying  to  force  them  to  work  out  the 
problems  about  the  story. 

I  would  have  gone  back  to  work  with  Life  at  any  time  if  they  had 
written  into  my  contract  a  "right  of  responsibility"  clause  including 
the  right  to  prevent  publication  of  any  story  that  was  being  distorted 
from  my  reportage;  but  Life  became  fearful  that  if  they  gave  a  right 
like  that  to  one  person  they  would  have  to  give  it  to  all.  Which  might 
have  been  a  good  idea,  but  it  wasn't  true,  because  very  few  of  the 
others  were  willing  to  work  that  hard  or  to  fight  like  that  over  how 
their  pictures  were  used. 

I  really  felt  very  alone  at  times,  and  still  do.  As  I  have  said,  there 
were  very  few  who  were  trying  to  do  what  I  was  trying  to  do — they 
generally  were  not  that  troublesome,  even  though  some  did  resign 
for  one  reason  or  another.  Most  of  the  stories  of  my  being  tempera- 
mental came  from  these  battles — but  as  far  as  I  am  concerned,  I  am 
responsible  for  everything  that  goes  in,  as  far  as  having  the  respon- 
sibility that  it  should  not  be  distorted.  In  their  setup  I  was  not  respon- 
sible in  the  sense  that  it  was  "not  my  job"  to  handle  words,  but  I 
wanted  those  words  to  be  quite  great  and  I  tried  very  hard  to  make 
sure  they  were. 

If  I  was  going  to  be  so  temperamental  as  to  turn  down  stories  all 
the  time,  I  had  to  bring  in  something  that  was  equivalent,  that  would 
be  at  least  as  satisfactory.  And  this  was  the  only  way  I  could  insure 
that  I  would  work  on  stories  /  wanted  to  work  on.  As  to  your  question 
about  the  "Nurse  Midwife" — they  more  or  less  went  right  ahead  and 
said,  "Fine,  go  up  and  talk  to  the  science  department."  The  science  de- 
partment and  I  got  along  very  well.  I  had  great  respect  for  the  peo- 
ple there,  and  we  worked  together  like  intelligent  people,  without 
any  of  the  pettiness  that  went  on  in  so  many  other  departments.  Well, 
the  reason  I  thought  they  were  intelligent  is  that  they  mostly  left  me 
alone.  No,  they  were  very  good,  marvelous  at  their  job,  too.  I  said, 
"too,"  I  shouldn't  have  said  that.  I  was  in  on  most  of  the  layouts,  espe- 
cially toward  the  end  of  our  togetherness.  It  isn't  necessary,  in  my 
mind,  for  me  to  do  every  layout.  Actually,  in  those  days  at  Life,  they 
could  change  my  layout,  as  long  as  it  did  not  insult  my  intelligence, 
and  as  long  as  it  did  not  distort  the  meaning  of  the  story.  I  did  not 
throw  temperamental  tantrums  about  such  things.  I've  never  thrown 
a  temperamental  tantrum  in  my  life,  anyway.  As  far  as  I'm  con- 
cerned, my  temperament  was  backed  into  by  having  this  happen  and 
that  happen;  that  just  made  me  determined  that  such  a  thing  would 
not  happen  the  next  time.  So  it  was  not  that  I  was  trying  to  throw 
weight  around.  In  fact,  I  think  I'm  very  easy  to  get  along  with  in  such 
matters,  as  long  as  there  are  intelligent  and  sincere  people  equally 
trying  to  do  a  job.  I  don't  really  think  there's  much  reason  just  to  go 
around  being  temperamental.  I  think  it  gets  in  the  way  of  doing  a  job 
well.  So  all  the  resignations,  etc.,  were  for  purposes  of  trying  to  help 
me  gain  the  quality  in  the  magazine  I  felt  was  my  responsibility  as  a 


99  W.  Eugene  Smith 


W.  Eugene  Smith,  Country  Doctor,  Life, 
20  September  1948. 


journalist.  And  I  take  that  responsibility  very  seriously.  Although  we 
laugh  at  some  of  the  escapades,  as  you  might  call  them,  or  scenes  that 
took  place,  they  were  all  very  serious  and  never  light. 

I  don't  think  there  is  anything  that  has  replaced  Life.  Certainly 
television  has  not.  And  I  think  we  are  less  well  off  than  we  were  when 
it  was  alive.  I  think  it's  too  bad,  because  I  think  through  television 
we  remain  with  the  delusion  that  we  are  among  the  most  informed 
people  in  the  world,  and  informed  much  faster;  and  I  think  we  are 
rapidly  approaching  a  state  of  being  very  uninformed.  This  constant, 
instant  journalism— you  don't  get  much  journalism  with  it;  you  don't 
get  much  depth.  I'm  utterly  unsatisfied  with  news  broadcasts.  How- 
ever, our  pictures  appeared  very  frequently  in  Japan,  and  they  ap- 
peared very  often  on  prime  time  television;  I  cannot  see  that  happen- 
ing here  very  much.  The  Japanese  use  still  photographs  on  their 
television  shows  much  more  intelligently  than  we  do.  I've  had  several 
half-hour  and  hour-long  programs,  or  Aileen  and  I  have,  and  this  is 
how  we  influence.  The  ways  of  seeing  here  and  the  use  of  still  photo- 
graphs are  not  very  intelligent  as  yet.  Television  is  doing  the  same 
thing  that  Life  did,  as  far  as  that  goes,  in  most  of  their  hour-long  spe- 


100  W.  Eugene  Smith 


cials.  I  have  to  give  them  the  same  warning:  if  they  don't  do  better, 
it's  just  not  going  to  work. 

Well,  I  threatened  resignation  many  times.  I  only  had  three 
powers.  One  was  to  suggest;  another  was  to  protest;  and  the  third 
was  to  threaten  resignation.  And  one  has  to  be  fairly  confident  in 
oneself  to  threaten  it,  and  it  can  never  be  a  bluff.  So  actually  I  re- 
signed for  the  first  time  in  1940.  The  reason  was  that  the  assignments 
were  just  simply  poor  assignments,  and  I  wanted  to  do  something 
much  more  serious.  So  I  wrote  a  letter  saying  this  to  the  photographic 
editor  and  he  wrote  back  saying  he,  too,  once  wanted  to  write  "the 
great  American  novel."  So  I  resigned  at  that  time.  And  he  said  I 
would  never  have  another  chance  to  work  for  Life  magazine.  I  mean, 
they  couldn't  just  let  a  young  guy  resign;  they  had  to  put  a  threat, 
a  twist,  into  it.  So  when  the  war  came,  and  later  when  they  wanted 
me  back,  I  made  them  ask  me  five  times.  No,  seriously,  it  wasn't  just 
vengeance.  It  was  the  fact  that  I  did  not  like  the  attitude  that  Life 
used  to  have  of  trying  to  keep  people  scared  and  in  this  way,  to  get 
more  mileage  out  of  them  as  a  photographer  or  a  writer.  I  felt  that  if 
they  really  had  to  work  to  get  me  back,  I  would  be  in  a  much  better 
position  to  stand  them  off. 

Wilson  Hicks  made  some  remark  that  I  re-posed  pictures  in  a  way 
that  was  more  real  than  reality  itself.  Don't  take  any  of  the  words  in 
Wilson's  book  about  me  as  accurate.  He  also  takes  credit  for  my  going 
to  the  Spanish  village,  and  he  had  already  been  off  the  staff.  He's  the 
one  that  instituted  the  statement  that  if  we  could  just  break  the 
idealism  of  Smith,  we  could  get  more  mileage  out  of  him  as  a  pho- 
tographer. After  our  fairly  early  battles,  and  after  he  found  out  he 
couldn't  do  all  this  pushing  around,  he  and  I  got  along  fairly  well.  I 
knew  where  he  stood  and  he  knew  where  I  stood.  The  "Country  Doc- 
tor" was  during  this  period  of  breaking  the  idealism  out  of  Smith,  and 
I  was  beaten  down  in  some  ways.  I  was  going  to  resign  when  I  came 
back.  I  didn't;  things  had  changed.  To  do  the  "Country  Doctor"  I  had 
to  sneak  out  of  town  because  I  was  getting  no  assignment  that  was  in 
any  way  compatible  with  me  at  that  moment,  because  they  were 
either  refusing  to  give  me  any  assignment  that  was  workable,  or  I 
was  not  working  at  all.  Hicks  and  his  assistants  were  on  vacation. 
The  suggestion  for  the  "Country  Doctor"  was  not  my  suggestion,  it 
was  Life's.  But,  I  was  determined,  really,  I  was  going  to  do  this  abso- 
lutely my  way  or  that  was  the  end.  We  started  doing  it,  and  Hicks 
started  sending  wires  that  I  should  come  back.  Finally,  I  sent  a  wire 
back  to  each  one  of  his  which  said:  "Sorry,  to  leave  now  would  jeop- 
ardize the  story."  Incidentally,  the  "Country  Doctor"  story  took 
twenty-three  days  and  twenty-three  nights;  and  it  also  is  the  story 
that  did  more  than  any  other  to  break  Life's  habit  of  issuing  scripts 
for  every  story.  Finally,  Hicks  stopped  outside  my  door  one  day  and 
said,  "I  hear  you've  got  a  very  good  story  in  there."  And  I  said,  "Well, 
it's  not  too  bad."  And  then  he  said,  "I  doubt  if  you  can  guess  who  told 
me."  And  I  thought,  "Well,  why  did  he  ask  me  a  question  like  that?" 
Hicks'  attitude  of  playing  people  off  against  people,  of  playing  one 
man  against  another,  of  making  someone  work  out  of  fear  instead  of 
real  cooperation,  is  why  I  resigned  from  Life  to  begin  with — I  mean, 
one  of  the  reasons  that  I  had — because  I  could  not  work  under  those 
kinds  of  conditions.  I  thought,  "Well,  who  did  he  most  want  me  to 
start  a  feud  with  or  something.  Who  is  he  playing  off  against  me?" 
I  took  a  chance  and  said,  "Leonard  McCombe."  I  was  right.  And  this 


101  W.  Eugene  Smith 


was  because  Leonard  McCombe  had  just  done  his  very  famous 
"Career Girl."  I  think  Wilson  got  Leonard  and  me  mixed  upas  to  who 
was  setting  up  pictures.  It  never  interfered  with  Leonard's  and  my 
friendship. 

I  almost  never  pose  a  picture.  There  was  one  time  when  I  was 
about  nineteen  or  twenty  that  I  did  everything  in  a  posed  way  with 
many,  many  flashbulbs.  I  once  decided  that  was  the  wrong  way  and 
I  tore  them  all  up.  Now  I  wish  I  hadn't.  There  is  one  thing  that  I  will 
do.  Many  people  say  that  if  you  tamper  with  your  subject  at  all  or  use 
any  additional  lights  that  this  is  not  honest.  Well,  I  don't  think  that 
light  has  anything  to  do  with  honesty.  For  instance,  doing  the  "Mid- 
wife" the  rooms  were  frequently  smaller  than  this  table  and  much 
shorter,  and  if  I  was  trying  to  relate  the  midwife  to  the  woman  who 
was  giving  birth,  I  had  to  somehow  have  pictures  that  showed  both. 
Sometimes  I  could  use  a  window,  but  I  would  not  hesitate  at  all  to 
go  in  a  few  days  before  the  child  was  expected  and,  say,  even  move 
the  bed  just  far  enough  away  from  the  wall  so  I  could  photograph 
across  the  expectant  mother  and  show  the  midwife.  And  also,  since 
most  of  the  rooms  were  very  dark,  I  very  likely  would  carry  a  white 

102  W.  Eugene  Smith 


W.  Eugene  Smith,  Nurse  Midwife,  Life, 
3  December  1951. 


card  and  possibly  bounce  strobe  from  it.  Now  this,  some  people  say, 
is  interfering  with  your  subject.  But  that  in  no  way  is  interfering 
with  the  natural  fact  and  actual  fact  of  the  childbirth.  So  I  never  hesi- 
tated to  do  it.  There  was  a  school  of  "available  light  photography" 
that  I  think  was  rather  a  nonsensical  school,  in  that  they  said  that  the 
honesty  of  photography  was  dependent  upon  just  using  the  light  that 
was  available.  I  think  if  people  are  honest  enough  in  the  way  they  ap- 
proach their  subjects,  they  do  not  need  some  school  of  approach  that 
is  a  mechanical  limitation.  My  attitude  toward  available  light  is:  any 
damned  light  is  available  light  if  I  can  get  my  hands  on  it  when  I  need 
it.  And  I  have  used  a  match,  for  instance,  to  get  just  the  touch  of  light 
into  a  face,  or  a  hand  flashlight.  I  almost  never  light  the  subject, 
but  I'm  saying  these  are  devices  I  will  use  if  I  think  it  is  necessary. 
Light  is  not  necessarily  honest;  human  beings  may  be. 

I,  unlike  some  photographers,  when  I'm  photographing,  will  never 
get  so  carried  away — I  may  be  crying  and  it's  hard  to  photograph 
through  tears,  in  some  situations,  some  of  the  pictures  in  Minamata 
and  other  places — but  I  never  lose  track  of  what  I  am  doing.  I  keep  a 
clear  mind  as  to  what  I  am  doing.  Many  photographers,  good  ones, 
Bourke-White  and  Wayne  Miller,  have  both  said  that  very  often 
when  they  are  in  a  dramatic  situation  they  get  so  carried  away 
taking  photographs  that  they  don't  really  realize  anything  else  that 
is  going  on  or  what  they  really  have  until  they  see  their  photographs. 
This  is  a  perfectly  legitimate  way  to  work.  I  sometimes  wonder  if 
maybe  I  don't  get  carried  far  enough  away.  For  instance,  take  the 
picture  of  the  mother  and  the  child  from  the  Minamata  series.  I  had 
built  up  to  a  very  high  tension.  I  turned  to  Aileen  and  I  said,  "Well, 
okay,  I  have  the  photograph,"  and  from  that  exposure  on  I  got  sloppy 
in  my  focus  and  sloppy  in  my  lighting.  And  so,  actually  what  I  was 
doing  was  trying  to  keep  enough  tension  going  so  that  if  anything 
else  developed,  I  would  be  prepared  to  come  to  full  tension  again.  As 
it  was  in  that  photograph,  I  usually  know  what  is  happening  unless 
I'm  being  fairly  mediocre.  And  if  I'm  being  fairly  mediocre,  then,  of 
course,  there  are  ten  mediocre  photographs  I  can't  choose  from. 

As  we  photographed  other  things,  things  around  her,  and  even  the 
family,  it  grew  and  grew  in  my  mind  that  to  me  the  symbol  of  Mina- 
mata was,  finally,  a  picture  of  this  woman  and  the  child,  Tomoko.  One 
day  I  simply  said  to  Aileen  that  if  everything  is  all  right  up  there,  and 
they  are  not  too  busy,  let  us  try  and  make  that  symbolic  picture.  Now 
this  does  not  in  any  way  mean  I  was  posing  the  picture  in  the  sense  of 
posing  a  picture.  It  meant  that  I  was  interpreting  what  by  now  I  knew 
full  well  to  be  true,  because  I  would  never  have  done  it  otherwise.  And 
so  we  went  there  and  we  sat;  and  we  talked  for  a  while;  and,  I  actually 
explained  what  kind  of  a  picture— I  didn't  explain  that  I  wanted  that 
look,  that  look  of  courage— I  simply  said  that  I  wanted  something  of 
the  caring  for  Tomoko.  I  thought  maybe  away  from  the  bath  would 
be  the  picture  that  would  best  show  what  had  happened  to  Tomoko's 
body.  We  started.  The  mother  herself  suggested  that  the  photograph 
should  be  in  the  bath;  so  we  decided  to  try  that.  The  mother  went 
through  her  ordinary  bath  routine  with  the  child,  and  this  was  the 
result. 

I  very  often  do  this  where  I  realize  that  that  kind  of  a  picture  is 
legitimate  to  an  essay;  I  simply  sharpen  my  perception  watching  for 
that  event  to  happen.  And  I  wouldn't  hesitate,  say,  to  set  a  legitimate 
situation  into  motion  if  I  thoroughly  felt  that  the  picture  was  legiti- 


103  W.  Eugene  Smith 


W.  Eugene  Smith,  Tomoka  and  Mother, 
Minamata,  1972. 


104   W.  Eugene  Smith 


mate  to  the  subject.  I  almost  never  do  this,  but  I  wouldn't  hesitate  to 
do  it  if  there  were  an  important  gap  in  the  coverage  of  the  event.  I 
much  prefer  to  wait  for  the  event  to  happen  in  natural  life  than  to 
speed  it  up. 

Except  when  covering  the  war,  I  find  that  my  approaches  are  not 
very  different.  I  generally  try  to  become  so  accepted  into  a  commu- 
nity, that  they  more  or  less  forget  about  me  as  a  photographer  and  as 
a  journalist,  and  I  will  be  welcomed  in  homes  and  not  as  a  stranger 
intruding.  Part  of  this  is  also  that  I'm  so  very  shy  that  I  do  not  feel  I 
can  j  ust  go  out  and  slam  cameras  in  people's  faces  and  photograph 
them.  I  never  could  do  some  of  the  things  that  some  of  the  people, 
who  I  think  are  very  fine  photographers,  do.  I'm  not  saying  I'm  right 
and  they're  wrong.  I'm  just  saying  that  it's  just  not  my  way  of  work- 
ing. So  the  "Midwife"  and  Minamata  were,  in  a  sense,  approached 
in  the  same  way;  although  Minamata  did  have  much  more  of  the  con- 
frontations between  patients  and  company,  and  one  of  its  results  was 
their  smashing  my  head  and  my  camera.  When  we  speak  of  that 
situation,  it  only  took  thirty  seconds  of  my  life,  as  far  as  the  action 
that  caused  it  to  happen.  And  though  I'm  still  suffering  from  it,  I 
would  like  to  balance  that  action  with  the  good  things  and  the 
warmth  with  which  most  of  the  Japanese  people  have  treated  me. 
The  Japanese  acceptance  of  me  has  j  ust  been  remarkable. 

When  you  go  to  a  city  or  village  like  Minamata,  the  great,  the 
most  grievous  problem  as  far  as  I  am  concerned  is  how  to  reach  the 
patients.  How  do  you  get  them  to  accept  you  so  that  you  can  photo- 
graph? The  question  of  photographing  them  is  a  question  of  intru- 
sion; it  is  a  question  of  depth;  it  is  a  question  of  learning  your  subject 
well  enough  to  know  how  to  photograph.  I  thoroughly  believe  that  in 
all  photography  this  is  most  important.  I  don't  believe  one  should  in- 
trude when  the  intrusion  is  obnoxious,  or  dangerous,  or  it  just  truly  is 
within  the  rights  of  the  subject  to  object.  I  have  complete  sympathy 
for  anyone  who  does  object.  Becoming  closely  enough  acquainted 
with  the  subjects  is  a  question  that  no  one  can  tell  you  how  to  solve, 
but  it  is  a  question  of  how  to  be  intimate  enough  so  that  they  forget 
that  you  are  a  photographer  to  the  extent  that  they  will  not  be  self- 
conscious  when  you  are  around.  And  in  Minamata  it  reached  that 
point  in  three  or  four  months  with  most  of  the  neighbors,  most  of  the 
people,  accepting  me. 

I  truly  at  all  times  try  to  have  consideration  for  the  people  I'm 
photographing.  I  try  to  become  as  intimate  with  the  subjects  as  pos- 
sible. For  instance,  with  the  "Midwife,"  I  felt  it  didn't  matter  whether 
I  took  one  camera  or  five  because  the  shock  of  their  seeing  a  white 
man  with  any  kind  of  a  camera  coming  across  toward  their  shack 
was  traumatic.  Yet  because  they  had  such  a  reverence  or  love  for  the 
midwife,  all  she  would  have  to  do  to  get  them  at  their  ease  would  be 
to  say,  "This  is  Mr.  Smith.  He's  a  friend  of  mine.  We  are  working 
together."  That  usually  just  ended  all  embarrassment;  it  ended  all 
hesitation,  although  there  were  always  certain  kinds  of  shyness  and 
there  always  will  be.  There  are  many  ways  lives  can  be  changed  by 
photographs,  but  I  don't  think  just  the  mere  act  of  making  a  photo- 
graph will  cause  it  to  change. 

In  the  death  scene  in  the  "Spanish  Village,"  I  did  not  want  to  in- 
trude into  the  mourning  scene.  But  as  the  picture  came  about,  the  day 
before  I  had  been  quite  ill  with  an  upset  stomach  in  the  field  just  on 
the  edge  of  the  village.  A  man  offered  me  some  wine,  which  I  didn't 

105  W.  Eugene  Smith 


want,  but  I  drank  it  anyway  just  because  of  the  gesture  of  kindness. 
Then  the  next  day  he  came  to  me  and  said  his  father  had  died  that 
night.  He  had  had  gangrene  and  they  wanted  to  bury  him  as  quickly 
as  possible,  so  he  asked  me  if  I  could  take  him  to  the  county  seat  so  he 
could  get  the  necessary  papers  registered.  When  we  came  back,  he 
went  to  his  house.  I  could  see  into  the  house;  it  was  a  very  moving 
scene  that  was  happening  in  the  back  of  the  room,  but  I  could  not 
bring  myself  to  go  in,  to  just  walk  in;  I  just  couldn't  do  it.  I  paced  back 
and  forth  outside,  storming  at  myself  because  I  realized  that  it  was 
an  important  picture,  and  it  was  important  to  the  whole  story.  But 
yet  I  did  not  feel  I  had  the  right  to  intrude.  And  I  knew  that  a  great 
many  photographers  would  have  just  gone  in.  Whether  they  would 
have  come  out  with  a  good  picture,  I  don't  know,  because  they  prob- 
ably would  have  disturbed  the  people  in  there.  Well,  I  stayed  outside 
for  a  while.  Then  I  saw  the  son  of  the  man  come  to  the  door,  and  I  sud- 
denly went  up  to  him  and  said,  "Sir,  I  do  not  wish  to  dishonor  your 
father,  but  would  it  be  permissable  for  me  to  enter  your  house  and  to 
photograph?"  And  he  said,  "Please  come  in.  I  would  be  honored."  So  I 
went  in  with  one  assistant.  The  only  light  in  there  was  a  candle  about 
three  feet  over  his  head,  and  with  all  that  black  that  they  were  wear- 
ing, it  was  very  difficult.  But  I  wanted  to  hold  that  same  mood  of  light- 
ing, so  it  was  one  of  the  few  times  I  used  a  flashbulb.  I  took  the  reflec- 
tor off  and  j  ust  used  the  bare  bulb.  By  hand  signals  alone  I  motioned 
my  assistant  to  work  his  way  around  behind  the  people  to  a  position 
where  he  could  hold  the  bulb  over  the  candle  so  that  it  would  simulate 
the  candle  lighting.  I  made  one  exposure  and  immediately  realized 
that  it  was  not  good,  that  the  picture  was  all  out  of  rhythm.  I  made 
one  more  and  I  thought  I  had  at  least  a  good  picture.  I  would  have 
loved  to  have  stayed  there  and  photographed  for  a  couple  of  rolls,  but 
then  I  saw  the  son  standing  in  the  doorway  peering  in.  I  again  mo- 
tioned without  words  for  my  assistant  to  go  through  the  other  door- 
way so  that  mourners  in  the  other  room  and  the  son  in  the  doorway 
could  be  seen,  made  one  more  exposure,  and  then  very  reluctantly  I 
left.  All  this  time  never  having  said  a  word,  hoping  I  never  created 
much  of  a  disturbance.  So  I  think  a  great  many  of  these  very  delicate 


W.  Eugene  Smith,  Spanish  Village, 
Life,  9  April  1951. 


106  W.  Eugene  Smith 


situations  can  be  overcome  with  care  and  sensitivity  and  politeness. 
I  have  known  other  instances  where  I  absolutely  have  refused  to 
photograph,  though,  because  I  think  there  is  no  photograph  that  is 
worth  any  real  embarrassment  to  the  people  involved. 

Actually,  I  think  my  whole  career  has  followed  this  involvement 
with  individuals  and  situations  that  are  very  much  part  of  what  I  am 
today.  My  aims  have  been  pretty  much  the  same.  There  have  been 
curves  and  jags,  but  it's  still  an  unbroken  line  from  where  I  began  to 
where  I  am  now.  I  think  for  a  long  while  I  was  getting  better.  In  the 
early  fifties,  I  think  I  was  going  so  rapidly  from  each  story  I  was  at- 
tempting that  it  could  have  been  remarkable  to  keep  up  that  growth. 
Then  came  a  very  bad  period  in  my  life,  but  I  was  still  growing  for  sev- 
eral years  within  it.  I  think  I  was  at  my  peak  as  a  photographer  in, 
say,  1958,  or  so.  I  do  not  think  that  I  am  as  good  a  photographer  today 
as  I  was  then.  My  imagination  and  my  seeing  were  wildly  free  and 
disciplined.  Everywhere  I  looked,  every  time  I  thought,  it  seemed  to 
me  it  left  me  with  greater  exuberance  and  a  truer  quality  for  seeing. 
Yet,  it  was  one  of  the  most  miserable  times  of  my  life  for  I  had  little 
opportunity  to  put  it  into  real  use.  I  only  had  small  opportunities  to 
do  it,  but  I  can  still  feel  it  happening.  Actually,  I  also  wrote  more  in 
that  time.  I  think  my  writing  was  better  then,  too,  than  it  is  now — I 
wrote  two  plays.  I  could  not  write  them  today. 

I'm  a  great  believer  in  life.  Oh,  my  sense  of  despair  is  one  of  sor- 
rows and  deep  feelings,  but  it  is  not  one  of  giving  up  on  either  the 
world  or  other  people.  The  world  or  other  people,  now  what  does  that 
mean?  I  sometimes  give  up  in  despair  on  my  English,  but  not  on  peo- 
ple. No,  I  think  I'm  one  of  the  most  affirmative  photographers.  There's 
nothing  in  this  essay  [Minamatal  that  can  be  taken  as  being  other 
than  affirmative,  no  matter  how  cynical  I  am  at  times  and  no  matter 
how  critical  I  am  at  other  times.  The  basic  feeling  is  affirmation;  it  is 
not  despair.  And  I  really  mean  that. 

I've  been  very  lucky.  I  started  when  I  was  fourteen  and  in  terms 
of  acceptance,  I've  been  a  success  almost  the  entire  time.  In  fact,  I've 
had  to  keep  tight  control  to  make  sure  that  my  self-criticism  never 
got  dulled  by  good  notices  or  I  could  easily  have  slipped  into  real 
complacency.  I  compete  only  against  myself — what  do  you  think  that 
was  a  minute  ago  when  I  said  I  was  a  better  photographer  in  1958? 
Was  the  criticism  plain?  I  think  Minamata  should  have  been  better. 
I've  never  been  satisfied  with  the  work  I've  done.  My  work  is  a  failure 
as  far  as  the  height  I'd  like  to  reach  with  it.  You  see,  I  started  out  on 
the  premise  that  there's  no  such  thing  as  a  perfectionist.  Because 
knowing  perfection  is  impossible,  the  perfectionist  never  begins.  So 
knowing  that  I'm  going  to  fail  to  a  certain  extent,  my  problem  is  to 
cut  that  failure  down  to  as  narrow  a  gap  as  possible. 

By  far  the  best  way  to  see  Minamata  is  by  means  of  the  book  that 
is  just  coming  out,  because  I  think  we  have  tried  to  blend  words  and 
pictures  together  in  a  way  that  they  really  don't  repeat  each  other. 
Each  adds  to  the  other  medium  in  a  true  marriage.  A  few  of  the  cap- 
tions do  slightly  repeat,  but  all  in  all,  I  don't  think  they  do.  Now  I 
have  not  laid  it  out  as  a  photographer  trying  to  look  good  as  a  photog- 
rapher as  such.  I  mean,  in  other  words,  this  is  an  essay  which  I  hope 
becomes  an  experience  for  those  who  read  it.  I'm  not  trying  to  say: 
"Oh,  see  what  a  great  photographer  I  am,"  or  something  like  that. 
Sometimes  I  have  used  pictures,  pictures  that  I  simply  had  not  been 
able  to  bring  to  the  very  highest  of  photographic  standards,  but  that 

107   W.  Eugene  Smith 


I  found  to  be  essential  for  the  book.  Ideally  every  photograph  would 
fill  both  the  artistic  function  and  the  necessity  of  journalism. 

I  put  so  much  passion  and  so  much  energy  into  the  doing  of  my 
photographs  that  beyond  photography  for  art's  sake,  "art  for  art's 
sake,"  or  such,  I  much  prefer  to  have  my  photographs  add  this  other 
element,  that  possibly  they  will  stir  someone  to  action,  to  do  some- 
thing about  something.  I  would  like  to  make  clear  at  the  very  begin- 
ning that  I  have  no  conflict  between  journalism  and  my  artist  self.  At 
one  time  I  did,  but  then  I  realized  that  to  be  a  good  journalist  I  needed 
to  be  the  finest  artist  that  I  could  possibly  be.  When  I  was  working  for 
Colliers,  I  really  rather  enjoyed  reading  a  manuscript  and  then  illus- 
trating the  manuscript  in  some  way,  some  very  free-form  way  that 
allowed  me  not  to  illustrate  one  little  passage  or  something,  but 
allowed  me  to  illustrate  the  feeling  of  the  subject.  I  think  it's  gen- 
erally easier  to  do  the  words  after  the  pictures,  because  in  a  way  you 
have  more  flexibility  with  words  than  you  do  with  a  photograph. 

I  learned  much  more  from  music,  literature,  the  stage,  the  other 
arts,  than  I  ever  learned  from  painting  or  from  photography.  I  don't 
know  why  that  should  be.  I  picked  up  timing  and  a  sense  of  drama, 
and  also  how  to  relate  pictures  together.  But  more  important  than 
that,  I  was  also  emotionally  very  deeply  stirred;  my  mind  was  set  to 
thinking;  I  was  just  involved.  My  music  was  of  the  widest  possible 
variety.  So  was  my  outlook  on  life  as  far  as  what  it  embraces.  I  have 
about  twenty-five  thousand  records  and  ten  thousand  books.  I've 
lived  a  little  bit  of  life,  too.  Drama  plays  a  great  role  in  my  photog- 
raphy. You  very  seldom  will  find  among  my  photographs  someone 
who  is  standing  there,  j  ust  staring  at  me.  I  like  very  much  to  have  my 
portraits  in  relationships,  so  that  the  person  you  are  looking  at  is 
well  related  to  a  background  of  some  of  the  things  that  he  has.  And  I 
try  to  integrate  these  very  strongly  into  the  final  photograph. 

I  was  a  terrible  printer;  in  fact,  some  people  think  I  still  am.  My 
printing  style  mainly  evolved  from  an  effort  to  defeat  printers.  I 
would  work  very  hard  so  that  anything  that  was  essential  to  the  pic- 
ture would  be  very  open  and  easy  to  see,  and  shadowed  details  would 
be  open.  So  it  would  have  a  chance,  even  if  it  didn't  come  out  as  good 
printing,  it  would  at  least  bear  a  resemblance  to  the  balances  that  I 
was  working  toward. 

I  think  that  color — in  the  form  that  it  is  in  now,  and  in  the  lack  of 
control  that  I  would  have  over  it — has  a  great  tendency  to  vulgarize 
the  kinds  of  emotions  that  I'm  trying  to  express.  Now,  color  should 
not  vulgarize  emotions  because  it  should  be  a  marvelous  tool  for 
underlining  them  and  intensifying  them,  but  I  just  cannot  stand  most 
of  the  color  I  see,  especially  in  reproduction. 

The  photographer  who  influenced  me  possibly  the  most  when  I 
was  very  young  was  a  man  by  the  name  of  Martin  Munkacsi.  I  don't 
know  of  anyone  who  has,  as  a  photographer,  influenced  me  most,  but 
it  was  his  sense  of  humanity  and  dynamics  that  most  impressed  me, 
his  almost  poster-like  quality  whether  he  was  photographing  the 
Nazis  goose  stepping  or  the  unguarded  moments  of  high  officials.  But 
I  can't  say  too  many  photographers  have  influenced  me.  There  are 
those  I  admire,  and  I  absorb  from  all  sources,  obviously.  Now  Robert 
Frank,  I  have  to  relate  him  to  Franz  Kafka.  I  just  feel  an  unatoned 
thinking  within  Bob  that  I  do  relate  to,  and  I  like  his  pictures  for  that 
reason.  He's  going  to  make  them  anyway,  so  whatever  I  think  about 
his  sensitivity  is  not  going  to  injure  anyone.  I  feel  worried  about 

108  W.  Eugene  Smith 


Diane  Arbus'  pictures,  what  they  have  done  to  the  subject,  but  I  also 
admire  her  as  a  photographer.  Although  with  Diane  Arbus  I've  often 
wondered  if,  quite  independently  of  each  other,  we  had  both  acci- 
dentally run  across  the  same  people  and  had  photographed  them — 
not  being  influenced  by  knowing  that  the  other  person  was  influenc- 
ing us — I  really  would  have  loved  to  have  seen  the  difference  the 
photographs  would  show.  Some  of  her  people  I  think  I  would  perhaps 
have  chosen  as  subjects,  too,  but  I  think  they  would  have  come  out 
vastly  different.  Now,  I  don't  think  either  one  of  us  would  necessarily 
be  right,  but  I  think  we  would  have  shown  vastly  different  interpre- 
tations of  the  same  people.  And  I  think  a  lot  of  her  freaks  would  not 
look  so  freaky,  and  in  fact,  I  think  they  would  look  quite  normal. 

As  far  as  I  am  concerned,  I  j  ust  very  quietly  accept  photography 
as  an  art.  Some  of  the  photographs  I've  taken  have  changed  others' 
lives,  too,  because  I  know  from  the  history  of  my  own  work  that  at 
times  through  photographs  I  have  been  able  to  destroy  a  concentra- 
tion camp;  I  have  been  able  to  build  a  clinic  for  a  nurse  midwife;  I 
have  in  some  measure  been  able  to  help  a  little  fighting  the  disease 
and  pollution  of  racism.  I  never  knew  quite  the  answer  when  indi- 
viduals asked  me  my  reason  for  becoming  involved  in  pollution. 
And  then  I  suddenly  realized  that  in  my  entire  life  I  have  seldom 
been  seriously  photographically  involved  with  anything  else.  I  grew 
into  a  quick  maturity  seeing  my  own  family  go  down  to  destruction 
because  of  man's  pollution  of  the  soil  by  over-farming,  tearing  down 
the  windbreaks  until  he  saw  his  farmland,  aided  by  the  drought,  go 
across  the  skies. 

I  don't  feel  all  that  dedicated.  I  just  feel  like  the  normal  guy.  Too 
many  people  insist  upon  my  being  a  legend,  but  I  feel  humble  and 
always  on  the  threshold  of  knowing  how  to  do  my  work — and  I  love  to 
sit  and  listen  to  music,  and  drink  scotch. 


109   W.  Eugene  Smith 


Susan 
Sontag 


Susan  Sontag  was  born  in  1933  in  New 
York  City.  "The  Benefactor,"  her  first 
novel,  was  published  in  1963.  In  1965, 
Against  Interpretation,  a  collection  of 
her  critical  writings,  was  nominated  for 
a  National  Book  Award  in  the  field  of 
Arts  and  Letters.  Death  Kit,  her  second 
novel,  appeared  in  1967.  In  1969,  Farrar, 
Straus  and  Giroux  published  Styles  of 
Radical  Will,  eight  long  essays  on  con- 
temporary art  and  thought,  and  Trip 
to  Hanoi,  a  Noonday  paperback. 
Sontag  has  written  and  directed  three 
films:  Duet  for  Cannibals  (1969)  and 
BrotherCarl  (1971)  in  Sweden  and 
Promised  Lands  (1974)  in  Israel.  Far- 
rar, Straus  and  Giroux  has  published 
screenplays  of  the  first  two  films:  Duet 
for  Cannibals  in  1970  and  Brother  Carl 
in  1974.  Her  stories  have  appeared  in 
American  Review,  Partisan  Review, 
Harper's,  The  Atlantic,  Playboy  and 
Harper's  Bazaar.  Her  essays  and  re- 
views have  been  printed  in  numerous 
magazines,  including  The  New  York 
Review  of  Books,  The  New  Yorker, 
Partisan  Review,  Salmagundi,  Tri- 
Quarterly,  Evergreen  Review,  Com- 
mentary, Sight  &  Sound,  The  Nation, 
Vogue,  Film  Quarterly,  Ramparts  and 
The  New  York  Times.  In  1977,  Farrar, 
Straus  and  Giroux  will  publish  On 
Photography,  a  series  of  six  essays  that 
originally  appeared  in  The  New  York 
Review  of  Books,  and  a  volume  edited, 
with  introductory  essay  and  notes,  by 
Sontag,  called  Antonin  Artaud:  Se- 
lected Writings.  She  is  presently  work- 
ing on  a  third  novel. 


110  Susan  Sontag 


I  am  a  writer  and  a  filmmaker.  I  don't  consider  myself  a  critic,  and  I 
am  above  all  not  a  critic  of  photography.  But  it's  from  that  strictly  in- 
dependent and  freelance  position  that  I  am  saying  my  say;  it's  not  as 
a  member  of  the  photography  establishment  or  photography  anti- 
establishment,  but  as  an  educated  outsider. 

It  has  occurred  to  me,  however,  that  because  of  my  special  status 
in  relation  to  the  other  people  whom  you  have  invited  to  talk  before 
me  that  I  might  be  in  a  better  position  than  some  of  them  to  com- 
ment on  the  subject  of  this  series.  Obviously,  to  say  "Photography 
within  the  Humanities"  is  to  name  two  things  which  raise  a  whole, 
series  of  problems.  The  question  is:  What  is  photography?  Then 
there  is  the  other  big  word  with  the  little  ones  in  between — Humani- 
ties, which  makes  us  think  of  a  very  particular  set  of  values  that 
refers  back  to  certain  cultural  and  educational  ideas,  so  that  Hu- 
manities is  a  term  that  comes  up  in,  above  all,  university  curricula. 
But  that  is  a  kind  of  condensation  or  synthesis  or  anthology  of  the 
most  valuable  cultural  experiences  and  ideas  and  works  of  the  imagi- 
nation or  creation  within,  I  say,  a  given  culture.  But  just  to  catch  up 
with  it  in  its  relatively  modern  form,  it  does  have  to  do  with  a  notion 
of  curriculum. 

Now  if  anyone  would  think  to  suggest  as  a  title  for  a  series  of  ex- 
periences or  lectures  or  discussions,  Photography  within  the  Human- 
ities, he's  probably  not  mainly  thinking  of  the  humanities  as  being 
the  subject  under  question  but  photography,  because  one  of  the  first 
things  to  say  about  photography  is  that  it  is  a  relatively  recent  activ- 
ity. Whether  you  consider  it  an  art  form  or  not,  it  is  an  activity  over 
which  people  have  debated  (and)  whose  status  has  been  under  ques- 
tion. A  lot  of  people  in  the  early  decades  of  photography  tried  to  treat 
it  as  if  it  were  simply  some  kind  of  copying  machine,  as  an  aid  in  re- 
producing or  dispensing  a  certain  kind  of  visual  information,  but  not 
itself  as  an  independent  source  of  seeing  or  of  material  that  would 
fundamentally  change  our  visual  sensibility,  as,  in  fact,  it  has.  And 
the  history  of  taste  and  argument  about  photography  has  roughly 
consisted,  to  speak  in  broad  terms,  of  the  continuous  upgrading  of 
this  activity. 

One  continues  to  have  a  great  many  debates,  needless  to  say:  "Is 
photography  an  art  or  isn't  it?"  This  very  nourishing,  if  phony,  de- 
bate has  been  going  on  for  a  century  about  whether  photography  is 
an  art  or  not.  I  say  it's  phony  not  because  there  are  not  some  real 
questions,  but  because  I  think  that  the  questions— at  that  level— are 
oversimplified  and  fundamentally  opaque.  But  it  has  been,  if  it  is  a 
form  of  mystification,  an  immensely  creative  mystification.  The  lit- 
erature about  photography  by  professional  photographers  is  incred- 
ibly defensive.  It  is  both  aggressive  and  defensive,  two  stances  that 
usually  go  together.  One  can  sense,  under  all  these  exalted  claims 
that  are  being  made  for  photography,  a  very  interesting  and  fruitful 
pressure  on  the  photographer  which  has  been  this  problematic  status 
of  the  very  activity  itself. 

By  asking  about  the  situation  of  photography  within  the  human- 
ities, one  is  covertly  raising  that  old  query:  Is  photography  an  art? — 
is  it  really  a  serious  activity  or  a  serious  art;  does  it  really  have  a 
proper  place  in  the  university  curriculum ,  as  a  department  in  muse- 
ums; is  it  different  from  the  other  art  forms?  In  another  sense,  it  is  as 

A  speech  delivered  at  a  Wellesley  College  photographic  symposium  on  April  21, 
1975.  Published  by  permission  of  Susan  Sontag.  Copyright©  1976  by  Susan  Sontag. 

Ill  Susan  Sontag 


I  suggested  before,  a  phony  debate,  because  there  is  no  doubt  the  bat- 
tle has  been  won. 

The  question  is  rather,  if  photography  is  an  art  and  is  socially  or 
sociologically  accepted,  is  it  an  art  like  any  other?  It  isn't  exactly  an 
art,  like  painting,  and  perhaps  that  may  explain  something  about 
its  current  influence.  In  some  way  I  would  suggest  that  photography 
is  not  so  much  an  art  as  a  meta-art.  It's  an  art  which  devours  other 
art.  It  is  a  creation,  a  creation  in  the  form  of  some  certain  kind  of 
visual  image,  but  it  also  cannibalizes  and  very  concretely  reproduces 
other  forms  of  art;  there  is  a  creation  of  images,  images  which  would 
not  exist  if  we  did  not  have  the  camera.  But  there  is  also  a  sense  in 
which  photography  takes  the  whole  world  as  its  subject,  cannibalizes 
all  art  forms,  and  converts  them  into  images.  And  in  that  sense  it 
seems  a  peculiarly  modern  art.  It  may  be  the  art  that  is  most  appro- 
priate to  the  fundamental  terms  and  concerns  of  an  industrial  con- 
sumer society.  It  has  the  capacity  to  turn  every  experience,  every 
event,  every  reality  into  a  commodity  or  an  object  or  image.  One  of 
the  fundamental  axes  of  modern  thought  is  this  contrast  between 
image  and  reality.  It  doesn't  seem  wrong  to  say  that  our  society  is 
rooted  or  centered  in  a  certain  proliferation  of  images  in  a  way  that 
no  other  society  has  been. 

To  return  to  the  point  of  departure,  if  photography  has  a  place 
within  the  humanities,  it  might  very  well  have  a  kind  of  central  place, 
because  it  is  not  only  a  form  of  art  under  certain  restrictions,  but  it 
also  has  a  place  where  all  kinds  of  sociological  and  moral  and  histor- 
ical questions  can  be  raised. 

My  purpose  is  not  to  evaluate  the  work  of  particular  photogra- 
phers, but  rather  to  discuss  the  problems  raised  by  the  presence  of 
photography,  and  these  include  moral  issues  as  well  as  aesthetic 
issues.  I  think  it's  a  perfectly  good  idea  to  study  photography.  I'm  not 
talking  about  studying  making  photographs,  but  studying  looking  at 
them,  and  learning  how  to  see,  because  the  way  in  which  you  learn  to 
see  is  a  general  education  of  sight,  and  its  results  can  be  extended  to 
other  ways  of  seeing.  Another  point  should  be  made  that  there  is  such 
a  thing  as  photographic  seeing.  If  you  think  of  people  actually  going 
out  and  looking  for  photographs  as  a  kind  of  freelance  artistic  activ- 
ity, what  people  have  more  and  more  learned  to  value  is  something 
they  get  in  the  camera  that  they  don't  get  ordinarily,  that  they  can 
see  by  means  of  the  camera,  and  so  they  are  changing  their  own  way 
of  seeing,  in  the  very  process  of  becoming  habitual  camera  users.  The 
world  becomes  a  series  of  events  that  you  transform  into  pictures, 
and  those  events  have  reality,  so  far  as  you  have  the  pictures  of  them. 

Most  people  in  this  society  have  the  idea  that  to  take  a  picture 
is  to  say,  among  other  things:  "this  is  worth  photographing."  And  to 
appraise  an  event  as  valuable  or  interesting  or  beautiful  is  to  wish  to 
have  a  photograph  of  it.  It  has  gotten  built  into  our  very  way  of  per- 
ceiving things,  that  we  have  a  fundamentally  appropriative  relation- 
ship to  reality.  We  think  that  the  properly  flattering  contact  with  any- 
thing is  to  want  to  photograph  it.  And  the  camera  has  indeed  become 
part  of  our  sensibility.  So  when  Christopher  Isherwood  said,  "I  am 
a  Camera,"  what  he  really  meant  was  "I  see.  I  see.  I  perceive.  I  am 
storing  this  up." 

One  of  the  reasons  I  don't  take  pictures  is  that  there  are  a  lot  of 
other  people  taking  them  and  that's  for  the  moment  enough  for  me; 
and  I  feel  I  already  do  see  photographically.  Perhaps  I  see  too  much 


112  Susan  Sontag 


photographically  and  don't  wish  to  indulge  this  way  of  seeing  any 
further.  It  is  a  very  particular  specialization  of  one's  sensibility. 

How  did  you  first  become  involved  with  photography  from  the  criti- 
cal point  of  view? 

I've  always  been  a  photograph  junkie.  That  is,  I've  always  been  very 
interested  in  photographs— I  cut  them  out  of  magazines  and  collect, 
not  originals,  but  copies,  reproductions  of  photographs.  The  only  dif- 
ference is  that  recently  I  decided  to  write  about  some  of  the  ideas  that 
I've  had  over  the  last  twenty  years.  So  I  embarked  on  what  I  thought 
would  be  one  essay  and  has  turned  out  to  be  six.  But  I'm  not,  as  I  told 
the  people  who  invited  me  to  Wellesley,  a  photographer;  I  do  not  take 
photographs;  I  don't  like  to  take  photographs;  I  don't  own  a  camera; 
and  I'm  not  a  photography  critic.  But  my  writing  about  photography 
represents  the  expression,  and  in  a  certain  sense,  the  liquidation 
of  a  very  long-term  interest.  It's  precisely  because  I've  been  think- 
ing about  this  for  twenty  years  that  I  think  I  can  write  about  it  now. 
Somebody  asked  me  what  I  thought  I  was  going  to  do  by  writing  these 
essays,  and  I  said  I'm  going  to  cure  myself  of  my  addiction.  That 
hasn't  happened,  however. 

In  your  opinion,  is  the  normal  everyday  photographer  any  more  ag- 
gressive,  cannibalistic  toward  the  world  around  him  or  her  than  a 
normal,  everyday  prose  writer? 

There  are  an  unlimited  number  of  photographs  to  take,  every  photog- 
rapher feels  that.  There  are  not  an  unlimited  number  of  things  to 
write,  except  in  a  very  cerebral  sense,  which  no  writer  really  feels. 
Every  writer  has  to  reach  and  is  constantly  aware  of  how  basically  it 
comes  from  inside;  it  all  has  to  be  transformed  in  the  homemade  lab- 
oratory that  you  have  got  in  your  guts  and  your  brain.  Whereas,  for 
the  photographer,  the  world  is  really  there;  it  is  an  incredible  thing, 
it  is  all  interesting  and  in  fact,  more  interesting  when  seen  through 
the  camera  than  when  seen  with  the  naked  eye  or  with  real  sight.  The 
camera  is  this  thing  which  can  capture  the  world  for  you.  It  is  not  like 
a  gun;  it  is  not  like  doing  people  in,  but  it  is  a  way  of  bringing  some- 
thing back.  It  enables  you  to  transform  the  world,  to  miniaturize  it. 
And  photographs  have  a  special  status  for  us  as  icons  and  as  magical 
objects  that  other  visual  images  such  as  paintings  and  other  forms  of 
representational  art  such  as  literature  do  not  have.  I  do  not  think 
that  any  other  way  of  creating  image  systems  has  the  same  kind  of 
obsessional  power  behind  it. 

Of  course,  the  word  "cannibalize"  is  loaded  and  provocative  and 
is  perhaps  overly  strong,  but  I  do  not  consider  it  to  be  a  key  part  of  my 
argument.  My  primary  point  is  not  to  speculate  about  what  picture 
taking  does  to  people,  but  to  consider  the  impact  of  looking  at  photo- 
graphs and  having  this  kind  of  information  or  experience  of  the  pic- 
ture. It  is  the  consumption  of  photographs  rather  than  the  taking  of 
them  which  concerns  me  and  why  pictures  have  become  a  regular 
nutriment  of  our  sensibility  and  a  source  of  information. 

I  think  there  are  moral  issues  that  are  worth  talking  about,  and 
one  shouldn't  be  afraid  of  them.  I  get  kind  of  sad  when  I  realize  that 
what  people  seem  to  want  is  to  be  told  whether  photography  is  okay 
or  not.  I  mean  it's  part  of  the  world.  Let  me  give  you  an  example.  I'm 
probably  being  very  indiscreet,  but  I  don't  think  he  would  mind— I 
had  a  call  the  other  day  from  Richard  Avedon,  whom  I  had  gotten  to 


113  Susan  Sontag 


Ir  £7  ggn 


r*rm- 


Brassai,  Rome-Naples  Express,  1955. 

Clarence  John  Laughlin,  Sharley  Brow 
in  the  Outhouse,  1955,  Wellesley  Col- 
lege Museum. 

Brassai,  L' Amateur  du  livre  au  long 
des  quais  de  la  Seine,  1931. 

Berenice  Abbott,  Multiple  Exposure  of 
a  Swinging  Ball  in  an  Elliptical  Orbit, 
ca.  1958-1961. 

Che  Guevara  Dead,  Vallegrande, 
Bolivia,  10  October  1967.  Colonel  Rene 
Adriazola  of  the  Bolivian  Air  Force 
touches  chest  of  body  Bolivian  authori- 
ties said  is  that  of  Argentine-born 
Cuban  guerilla  Ernesto  Che  Guevera, 
one-time  top  aide  to  Fidel  Castro,  UPI, 
Wellesley  College  Museum. 


114  Susan  Sontag 


115  Susan  Sontag 


know  as  a  result  of  these  essays  for  the  New  York  Review  of  Books. 
In  fact,  I  didn't  know  him  before.  I  don't  think  I  would  have  written 
about  photography  if  I  had  known  any  photographers.  Anyway,  we 
had  become  friends  and  we  had  a  lot  of  discussion  about  the  ideas  of 
the  essays,  some  of  which  he  agreed  with  and  some  of  which  he 
didn't.  He  said,  "I  want  to  know  your  opinion."  He  had  spent  seven 
weeks  in  Saigon  in  the  early  seventies  and  he  took  a  great  many 
photographs  of  the  napalm  victims,  victims  of  American  bombings 
of  the  Vietnamese.  He  did  this  on  his  own,  with  his  own  money.  He 
was  not  sent  by  anybody.  He  set  up  a  studio  in  a  hotel  in  Saigon  and 
among  other  things  he  photographed  dozens  and  dozens  of  people 
without  faces,  without  hands,  bodies  covered  with  scar  tissue.  He  was 
asked  by  a  major  and  very  commercial  magazine  a  couple  of  days 
ago  to  print  these  photographs.  He's  never  printed  them.  He's  never 
published  them.  He  called  me  up  and  said,  "What  do  you  think?  I 
don't  know  what  to  do.  It  seems  to  me  a  terrible  thing  to  do,  and  it 
also  seems  to  me  a  good  thing  to  do.  I  mean,  I  just  don't  know."  We 
talked  for  an  hour  about  it.  Was  it  an  exploitation  of  these  people? 
Are  these  photographs  aesthetic?  He  had  only  shown  me  one,  and  I 
haven't  seen  all  of  them.  He  said  the  photographs  were  beautiful.  In 
some  ways,  they're  beautiful  and  in  others  they  are  absolutely  hor- 
rifying. He  said,  "I  don't  know  what  to  do,"  and  I  said,  "I  don't  know 
what  you  should  do  either;  after  calling  me  up  to  ask  my  opinion  I 
think  I'm  just  as  puzzled  as  you  are.  I  can  think  of  very  good  argu- 
ments for  not  doing  it,  and  I  can  think  of  very  good  arguments  for 

doing  it." 

This  is  a  tremendous,  messy,  moral  problem.  It  doesn't  start  with 
that  phone  call  either;  it  starts  all  the  way  back  when  one  does  it.  If 
you  don't  publish  them,  you'll  have  some  regrets;  if  you  do  publish 
them,  you'll  have  some  regrets.  He  agreed.  I  haven't  heard  the  news, 
so  I  do  feel  a  little  indiscreet  about  telling  you  the  story,  but  it's  not  a 
real  secret  and  you  may  very  well  see  these  photographs  in  the  next 
few  weeks.  But  the  problems  are  real.  The  complexity  is  real.  He's 
very  objective  about  his  work,  and  he's  very  smart.  He  said  they 
looked  like  Avedon  pictures,  and  yet  they  are  of  those  people.  He  said 
he  was  crying  when  he  took  the  photographs,  and  yet  they  looked 
like  Avedon  photographs,  very  straight-on,  white  background.  He 
said,  now  I  don't  know  what  to  do  with  them.  I  wonder  if  I  should  have 
taken  them,  and  yet  I  know  if  I  had  to  do  it  all  over  again  I  would 
still  have  taken  them.  It's  very  interesting;  it  put  his  whole  activity 
into  question.  I  do  think  that  people  understand  this.  I  don't  think  I 
invented  these  problems,  and  I  think  that  a  lot  of  photographers  are 
aware  of  them.  These  are  the  real  moral  and  aesthetic  questions  that 
are  raised  by  this  enterprise. 

Do  you  wish  that  photography  wasn't  as  ubiquitous  as  it  is?  Do  you 
resent  that  kind  of  intrusion  into  your  consciousness  that  you  de- 
scribed as  happening  at  age  twelve  when  you  first  saw  photographs 
of  Dachau?i 

Well,  it  changed  my  life.  But  I  don't  know  that  I  would  say  I  resent  it. 
A  lot  of  people  have  seen  photographs  that  have,  whether  they  know 
it  or  not,  changed  their  consciousness.  It's  not  a  question  of  my  re- 
action personally;  it's  a  question  of  naming  it— naming  this  phenom- 
enon which  is  very  formative  for  us  . . .  this  shock  experience  ....  It's 

1.  Susan  Sontag,  "On  Photography,"  New  York  Review  of  Books,  October  18, 1973. 
116  Susan  Sontag 


not  that  I  want  to  say  that  you  can't  be  shocked  by  anything  but  a 
photograph,  but  here  is  this  object,  this  image,  which  you  can  stum- 
ble or  come  upon  inadvertently  by  opening  the  pages  of  a  magazine. 
It's  not  like  a  painting;  you  know  where  the  paintings  are— they're  in 
museums  and  galleries  and  if  you  want  to  go  that's  a  special  experi- 
ence; you  go  to  it,  so  to  speak.  But  photographs  come  to  you  because 
they're  all  over  the  place. 

The  nature  of  the  imagery,  in  which  the  imagery  is  very  shocking 
and  painful,  is  certainly  more  common  now,  steadily  more  common 
than  it  was.  There  was  a  photograph,  you  must  have  seen  it,  it  was  on 
the  cover  of  both  Newsweek  and  Time  magazines  a  few  weeks  ago,  of 
a  Vietnamese  mother  holding  a  child  that  was  wounded  probably,  or 
dying,  or  was  already  dead  in  her  arms,  facing  the  camera.  Now  this 
is  a  photograph  which  you  would  not  have  seen  on  the  cover  of  any 
news  magazine  several  years  ago.  I  am  not  saying  that  people  were 
not  shocked  by  the  photograph;  I  am  sure  some  people  cancelled  their 
subscriptions  to  those  magazines.  But  that  kind  of  image  would  not 
have  been  acceptable,  would  have  been  thought  too  shocking  by  the 
editors  of  those  magazines  a  few  years  ago.  I  think  there  is  a  process 
of  becoming  inured.  I  do  not  know  if  people  become  that  much  more 
tolerant  of  the  real  thing  because  the  imagery  becomes  that  much 
more  acceptable,  but  inevitably  there  is  a  process  of  dissociation.  So 
that  often  when  people  for  the  first  time  are  confronted  in  reality 
with  anything  like  the  level  of  cruelty  in  the  images  they  have  seen, 
what  they  think  is,  "It's  like  the  photograph"  or  "It's  like  the  movie." 
They  refer  back  to  the  images  in  order  to  have  a  direct  experience  of 
the  reality  because  they  have  been  prepared,  in  some  very  dissociated 
way,  by  the  images  and  not  by  real  experience.  If  you  see  a  lot  of  im- 
ages like  that,  the  ante  is  being  raised;  the  image  has  to  be  even  more 
shocking  to  be  really  upsetting. 

In  a  way  you  are  not  present,  you  are  passive  when  you  look  at  the 
photograph.  Perhaps  that  is  the  disturbing  thing.  If  you  are  standing 
watching  an  operation,  next  to  the  operating  table,  you  can  change 
your  focus,  you  can  still  look  different  ways,  you  can  change  your  at- 
tention—make the  close-ups  and  the  long  shots  for  yourself.  There 
are  also  the  surgeons  and  the  nurses,  but  you  are  there.  You  are  not 
there  in  a  picture,  and  that  is  where  some  of  the  anxiety  comes  in; 
there  is  nothing  you  can  do  when  you  look  at  a  photograph. 

Photographs  give  us  information;  it  seems  that  they  give  us  infor- 
mation that  is  very  packaged  and  they  give  us  the  information  that 
we  are  already  prepared  to  recognize  obviously.  It's  as  if  the  words 
don't  have  the  weight  they  should  have,  so  that  one  of  the  statements 
being  made  by  any  photograph  is:  "This  really  exists."  The  photo- 
graph is  a  kind  of  job  for  the  imagination  to  do  something  that  we 
should  have  been  able  to  do  if  we  were  not  so  disturbed  by  so  many 
different  kinds  of  information  that  are  not  really  absorbed.  Photo- 
graphs have  this  authority  of  being  testimony,  but  almost  as  if  you 
have  some  direct  contact  with  the  thing,  or  as  if  the  photograph  is  a 
piece  of  the  thing;  even  though  it's  an  image,  it  really  is  the  thing. 

Do  you  feel  that  photography  has  promoted  a  new  kind  of  seeing? 

Oscar  Wilde  said  that  the  way  you  see  is  largely  determined  by  art, 
in  the  larger  sense.  Though  people  have  always  seen,  now  there  is  a 
process  of  framing  or  selection  which  is  guided  by  the  kinds  of  things 
that  we  see  reproduced.  Photography  is  an  art  form  which  is  basi- 


117  Susan  Sontag 


^^mI^I 

Edward  Weston,  MGM  Studios,  1939. 

Walker  Evans,  Penny  Picture  Display, 
Savannah,  Georgia,  1936. 

Richard  Avedon,  Jean  Genet,  Writer, 
NewYorkCity,  3-11-70. 


118  Susan  Sontag 


Lewis  Hine,  Mental  Institution,  New 
Jersey,  1924. 


Duane  Michals,  Portrait  of  Magritte, 
1965. 


119  Susan  Sontag 


cally  and  fundamentally  connected  with  technology  and  a  technol- 
ogy whose  virtues  are  its  simplicity  and  its  rapidity. 

Cartier-Bresson  has  recently  said  that  he  wants  to  stop  photo- 
graphing. He  has  always  painted  a  little  bit,  but  now  he  wants  to  de- 
vote himself  completely  to  painting,  and  the  reason  he  gave  is  that 
photography  promotes  "fast  seeing,"  and,  having  spent  a  lifetime 
seeing  fast,  he  now  wants  to  slow  down.  So  he'd  rather  paint.  The  ex- 
istence of  the  camera  does  promote  habits  of  seeing  which  are  rapid, 
and  part  of  their  value  is  how  much  you  can  get  out  of  this  rapid 
seeing. 

Technologically,  the  whole  history  of  the  development  of  cameras 
has  been  to  shorten  the  exposure  time.  Beginning  a  few  decades  ago, 
you  got  virtually  instantaneous  development.  That  means  there  is  an 
increasing  enlargement  of  the  scope  of  the  photographic  project. 
Thus,  anything  can  be  caught  by  the  camera,  and  the  whole  world  is 
material  to  be  photographed.  There's  no  doubt  that  the  reigning  taste 
is  for  the  photograph  that  makes  the  thing  interesting.  It  isn't  inter- 
esting in  itself,  it's  interesting  because  it's  in  a  photograph.  One  of 
the  many  tendencies  is  to  reduce  the  subject  matter  or  have  a  kind 
of  throw-away  subject  matter  in  photography.  There's  nothing  that 
wouldn't  make  a  good  picture.  I  don't  think  that  presumption  exists 
in  the  history  of  the  other  arts  or — if  it  does — it  is  only  recently,  and 
partly  because  photography  has  become  a  model  for  our  conscious- 
ness. When  you  have  seen  something  extraordinary  it  goes  with  the 
telling  afterwards  that  you  want  to  have  the  photographic  record  of 
it;  the  notion  of  an  event  or  situation  or  person  being  privileged  and 
your  taking  a  camera  to  record  it  are  intertwined  for  us. 

I  was  in  China  a  year  and  a  half  ago  and  wherever  I  went,  the 
Chinese  said  to  me,  "Where  is  your  camera?"  I  was  apparently  the 
first  person  to  ever  come  to  China  in  the  past  few  years  (since  for- 
eigners have  started  going  again)  who  hadn't  gone  with  a  camera. 
They  understood,  of  course,  that  to  get  to  go  to  China  was  a  big  thing 
for  us  foreigners  and  that  what  those  foreigners  did  when  they  came 
to  an  event  that  was  particularly  interesting  was  to  take  a  picture  of 
it.  I  was  very  interested  to  see  what  people  do  with  cameras  in  China, 
because  it  is  the  one  country  in  the  world  where  there  is  a  conscious 
effort  on  the  part  of  the  Chinese  leadership  not  to  be  a  consumer 
society.  Wherever  I  went  in  China,  everybody  had  photographs  of 
relatives:  in  wallets,  on  the  glass  under  desks  in  offices,  on  the  side  of 
the  lathe  or  the  machine  in  factories.  And  they'd  say,  "That's  my  aunt 
so-and-so,  or  my  cousin  so-and-so;  he  lives  a  thousand  miles  away, 
and  I  haven't  seen  him  in  two  years;  those  are  my  children,  those  are 
my  parents."  Or  you'd  see,  less  often,  photographs  of  famous  holy 
places  or  important  monuments.  Those  are  the  only  photographs  you 
see.  When  a  foreigner  comes  to  China  and  takes  a  picture  of  an  ap- 
pealing door,  the  Chinese  say,  "What  would  you  want  to  take  a  pic- 
ture of  that  for?"  And  the  person  says,  "Well,  it's  beautiful."  "That 
door  is  beautiful?  It  needs  a  coat  of  paint."  And  you  say,  "No,  it's 
beautiful."  The  Chinese  do  not  have  that  idea  that  objects  can  dis- 
close some  kind  of  aesthetic  value  simply  when  they  are  reproduced, 
or  that  particularly  casual,  vernacular,  off-hand,  deteriorated, 
throw-away  objects  have  a  kind  of  poetry  that  a  camera  can  reveal. 

The  point  that  I  make  in  a  number  of  the  essays  is  that  there  is  a 
kind  of  surrealist  sensibility  in  photography  which  is  very  impor- 


120  Susan  Sontag 


tant,  i.e.,  the  casual  ordinary  thing  is  able  to  reveal  its  beauties  when 
photographed.  There  is  a  whole  tradition  in  photography,  and  I  do 
not  mean  necessarily  the  so-called  surrealist  photographers,  but  pre- 
cisely the  people  who  are  doing  very  straight-on  stuff,  like  Weston 
photographing  toilets  and  artichokes.  One  of  the  great  traditions  in 
photography  is  taking  the  neglected,  homely  object,  the  corner  of 
something,  the  interesting  surface,  preferably  a  bit  deteriorated  or 
decayed  with  some  kind  of  strange  pattern  on  it.  That  is  a  way  of 
seeing  which  is  very  much  promoted  by  photography  and  has  in- 
fluenced people's  way  of  seeing — whether  they  use  cameras  or  not. 

Is  there  a  difference  in  impact  between  still  photographs  and  film? 

The  photographs  change,  depending  on  the  context  in  which  they  are 
seen.  One  could  say  there  is  something  exploitative;  they  become 
items,  visual  commodities  to  be  flipped  through  as  you  move  on  to 
something  else.  It  is  perhaps  a  way  of  denigrating  the  subject.  For 
example,  I  have  seen  those  Minamata  photographs,  that  are  down- 
stairs, many  times.  I  have  seen  them  in  books  and  all  kinds  of  mag- 
azines, and  now  I  am  seeing  them  in  a  college  art  museum;  each  time 
they  have  looked  different  to  me.  And  they  are  different.  Photographs 
are  these  portable  objects  which  are  changed  by  their  context.  You 
could  say,  of  course,  that  that  is  also  true  of  films.  To  some  extent, 
under  what  circumstances  you  see  a  film  does  change  it,  but  the 
photograph  is  more  changed  by  its  context,  especially  the  still  photo- 
graph, because  it  is  such  a  compact  and  portable  object.  This  is  why 
I  tend  to  favor  films  over  photographs  on  this  question;  the  film 
establishes  a  proper  context  for  the  use  of  those  images,  and  perhaps 
still  photographs,  in  fact,  are  more  vulnerable.  I  certainly  think  in 
some  way  a  still  image  is  and  always  will  be  more  memorable.  You 
can  really  remember  a  photograph  and  you  can  really  describe  it,  in 
a  way  that  you  cannot  describe  two  or  three  minutes  of  film. 

What  kinds  of  photographs  do  you  find  pleasing  or  good? 

I  do  not  know  what  it  really  means  to  talk  about  one's  favorite  or  pre- 
ferred photographs.  It  is  funny,  I  learned  something  about  my  taste 
this  afternoon  that  I  had  not  seen;  the  people  who  organized  this  set 
of  events  asked  for  us  to  suggest  ten  photographs  to  be  put  in  the  ex- 
hibit downstairs  in  the  museum.  I  sent  in  a  list  of  nine  photographs 
that  meant  something  to  me,  that  I  had  meditated  about.  One  of  the 
nine  pictures  could  not  be  obtained,  so  another  photograph  by  the 
same  photographer  was  substituted.  That  photograph  stuck  out  so 
much  for  me  as  not  belonging  with  the  others.  It  seemed  quite  clear  to 
me  that  it  had  a  different  aesthetic— that  anyone  who  had  eyes  could 
have  seen  that  I  would  not  have  chosen  that  photograph,  though  I 
could  have  and  did  choose  the  other  eight.  I  chose  a  very  straight, 
tough,  hard  edged  portrait  photograph  by  Brassai  called  "Rome- 
Naples  Express."  For  some  reason  they  could  not  get  it  and  put  this 
soft-focus,  sentimental,  touristy  Brassai  photograph  of  a  Paris  book- 
stall on  the  Seine.  Seeing  the  eight  I  had  chosen  I  realized  that  they— 
in  contrast  with  the  one  I  had  not — had  something  in  common,  even 
aesthetically.  They  all  had  a  hard  edge  quality  and  a  very  high  defi- 
nition. All  of  them  are  upsetting,  for  one  thing.  It  is  funny  since  I 
have  never  tried  to  understand  what  makes  me  like  one  photograph 
over  another. 


121   Susan  Sontag 


Irving 
Penn 


Irving  Penn  was  born  in  1917,  in  Plain- 
field,  New  Jersey.  At  art  school,  from 
1934  to  1938,  he  studied  design  under 
Alexey  Brodovitch.  Before  turning  to 
the  medium  of  photography,  he  ex- 
plored those  of  drawing  and  painting. 
Between  1937-39  his  drawings  appeared 
in  Harper's  Bazaar  and  in  1942  he  was 
painting  in  Mexico.  He  produced  his 
first  Vogue  cover  in  1943.  His  photo- 
graphic work  has  continued  to  appear 
in  Vogue  up  to  the  present.  Mr.  Penn 
has  also  photographed  commercially 
for  various  advertising  and  editorial 
clients  in  America  and  abroad  since 
1951.  He  has  published  two  books  of 
photographs.-  Moments  Preserved 
( 1960) ,  which  was  printed  in  five  lan- 
guages, and  Worlds  in  a  Small  Room 
(1974).  Mr.  Penn  has  exhibited  in  the 
United  States  and  in  Europe.  Prints  of 
his  work  in  platinum  were  shown  in 
April,  1975,  at  the  Galleria  Civica  d'Arte 
Moderna,  Turin,  Italy,  and  at  the 
Museum  of  Modern  Art,  New  York,  in 
May,  1975.  His  photographs  are  in  the 
permanent  collection  of  several  Amer- 
ican museums,  including  the  Museum 
of  Modern  Art,  New  York  and  the  Met- 
ropolitan Museum  of  Art,  New  York. 


122  Irving  Penn 


I  see  the  fashion  photographer  in  his  most  uncomplicated  form  as 
someone  providing  a  useful  service  to  industry.  He  is  as  serious  in  his 
devotion  to  his  work  and  as  necessary  to  a  merchandising  economy 
as  the  photographer  of  automobiles  or  the  photographer  of  food.  He 
is  well  paid,  but  probably  no  more  so  than  he  should  be,  given  his 
usefulness.  He  is  an  important  link  in  the  industrial-commercial 
chain.  His  job  is  to  record,  for  publication,  the  look  of  a  manufactured 
commodity,  to  show  its  most  attractive  aspect  and  perhaps  to  conceal 
its  shortcomings  in  the  ancient  skill  of  the  marketplace. 

I  studied  with  Alexey  Brodovitch.  He  was  then  art  director  of  • 
Harper's  Bazaar  and  one  of  the  great  figures  in  our  field.  I  studied 
design  with  him  at  art  school  and  was  invited  by  him  to  work  at  the 
Bazaar  as  an  office  boy  during  two  summer  vacations.  I  contributed 
drawings  to  Harper's  Bazaar  as  my  first  professional  work.  I  worked 
with  Brodovitch  as  his  assistant  on  his  private  assignments  and  then 
with  him  at  a  New  York  department  store.  At  his  suggestion  I  stayed 
on  alone  for  one  year  designing  the  store's  advertising.  Then  I 
painted  in  Mexico  for  a  year.  It  had  been  my  dream  to  paint,  but  after 
a  time  I  began  to  realize  that  I  would  be  only  a  mediocre  painter.  I 
left  Mexico,  returned  to  New  York  and  took  a  job  assisting  Vogue's 
new  art  director.  I  became  a  photographer  because  I  came  up  against 
a  blank  wall  in  the  work  I  was  trying  to  do.  My  job  was  to  suggest  pic- 
tures for  the  covers  of  Vogue.  I  would  think  of  ideas  for  the  covers 
and  visit  the  photographers  and  tell  them  what  I  wanted  them  to  do. 


Irving  Penn,  Lisa  Fonssagrives-Penn 
(Woman  in  Black  Dress,  1947) ,  Copy- 
right ©  1947  by  Les  Editions  Conde 
Nast,  S.A. 


A  speech  delivered  at  a  Wellesley  College  photographic  symposium  on  April  23, 
1975.  Published  by  permission  of  Irving  Penn.  Copyright  ©  1976  by  Irving  Penn. 


123  Irving  Penn 


This  was  unheard  of  in  those  days.  Photographers  simply  produced 
pictures  which  they  presented.  They  were  not  receptive  to  donated 
ideas — least  of  all  from  a  minor  member  of  the  staff.  I  can  under- 
stand their  feelings  now,  but  at  the  time,  I  felt  that  having  offered 
the  ideas  and  having  had  them  rejected  left  me  no  room  for  con- 
tinuing to  work  at  the  magazine.  I  discussed  this  with  the  art  direc- 
tor, Alexander  Liberman  and  said,  "I've  got  to  leave  because  I  can't 
accomplish  what  you've  asked  me  to  do."  He  said,  "Well,  I  can  under- 
stand that.  Why  don't  you  do  it  yourself?"  So  the  first  color  photo- 
graph I  ever  made  became  a  Vogue  cover,  and  it  was  on  Liberman's 
urging  and  with  his  friendship  and  collaboration  that  I  became  a 
photographer  and  began  the  close  relationship  with  him  and  with 
Vogue  that  continues  to  this  day. 

I'm  really  quite  shocked  at  how  time  has  changed  the  world.  I 
don't  understand  much  of  what's  going  on  in  the  women's  magazines 
today  at  all,  and  my  immediate  reaction  is  to  reject  it.  But  then  I  think 
back  to  the  time  when  I  became  a  photographer,  and  I  recall  that 
people  then  rejected  what  I  did  as  distasteful. 


Irving  Penn,  Black  and  White  Vogue 
Cover,  Copyright  ©  1950  by  The  Conde 
Nast  Publications  Inc. 


124  Irving  Penn 


Irving  Penn,  Girl  with  Tobacco  on  the 
Tip  of  Her  Tongue,  Copyright  ©  1951  by 
The  Conde  Nast  Publications  Inc. 


As  a  fashion  photographer  I  always  worked  within  the  discipline 
that  the  girl  I  photographed  had  to  be  desirable,  someone  I'd  want  to 
put  my  arms  around.  Recently  there  is  a  new  kind  of  girl — a  girl  that 
you  might  want  to  put  your  arm  around  out  of  pity,  a  disturbed  child 
that  you  would  like  to  soothe. 

Fashion  photography  was  very  great  before  I  came  along  and 
there  were  wonderful  photographers.  Fashion  was  really  in  Paris. 
The  Paris  panelled  drawing  room,  which  at  that  time  was  still  the 
ideal  background  for  the  photographing  of  elegant  women,  was  un- 
known to  me.  I  began  to  photograph  girls  in  the  studio  against  seam- 
less white  paper.  Isolating  a  model  against  a  simple  white  back- 
ground was  a  minor  revolution.  In  exasperation,  the  magazine's 
editors  more  than  once  said,  "Listen,  you've  just  got  to  stop  doing 
that.  We're  fed  up  with  the  girl  alone  in  white  space."  I  am  surprised 
now  that  I  had  the  courage  to  persist.  Some  years  went  by,  and  until 
ten  or  twelve  years  ago,  there  were  no  pictures  in  the  magazine  ex- 
cept girls  against  white  paper.  Now,  of  course,  there's  very  little  of 
that.  One  of  the  reasons  for  the  change,  an  art  director  told  me,  is 
that  modern  clothes  cannot  be  looked  at  with  the  same  kind  of  eye. 
They  cannot  stand  as  a  still  life,  which  they  were  able  to  do  in  the 


125  Irving  Penn 


past.  So  it's  much  better  to  have  them  taken  by  a  photographer  who 
uses  a  very  small  camera,  who  doesn't  focus  well  and  whose  images 
are  blurred  and  have  a  spirit  to  them.  If  you  have  the  model  walk 
along  a  crowded  street  and  blur  it,  everything  is  obscured  except  for 
her  spirit  and  vitality,  which  hold  it  all  together.  Because  there  is  so 
little  specific  that's  there,  the  viewer  can  project  her  dreams  onto  it. 
That,  I  think,  is  the  secret  of  contemporary  photography  in  maga- 
zines. And  none  of  the  pictures,  with  the  exception  of  ones  Avedon 
takes,  can  stand  the  examination  either. 

I'm  not  sure  that  I  believe  in  the  tendency  today  to  reveal  specific 
personal  information  about  a  model  and  create  a  duality  between  the 
private  side  and  the  mannequin  side.  This  is  a  question  that  I  under- 
stand well  since  I  have  a  wife  who  was  a  great  model  and  who  faced 
the  question  all  the  time.  As  a  successful  model  how  much  of  your 
true  self  as  a  private  person  do  you  allow  to  get  into  the  public  print 
without  diminishing  yourself  as  a  commodity?  It's  not  an  easy  thing 
to  decide  because  you're  torn  between  your  own  vanity  and  your  pro- 
fessionalism. 

For  me,  who  the  model  was  as  a  real  person  was  not  of  any  sig- 
nificance. She  was  used  as  a  symbol,  and  any  individualism  that  she 
had,  had  to  be  obscured,  because  she  had  to  be  somebody  with  whom 
any  reader  could  have  identified.  There  had  to  be  an  anonymous 
quality  to  her,  because  insofar  as  she  was  being  specific,  she  was  not 
doing  her  job.  A  model  can  in  one  day,  by  jumping  from  taxi  to  taxi, 
and  sitting  to  sitting,  pose  for  a  number  of  photographers  and  come 
out  in  each  case  a  different  person  reflecting  each  photographer's 
projection  upon  her.  This  is  close  to  home  for  me.  My  wife  is  putting 
together  a  lot  of  pictures,  family  pictures  she  calls  them,  but  many  of 
them  are  really  professional  pictures.  She  has  posed  for  photogra- 
phers from  Man  Ray  and  Beaton  to  Huene,  Horst  and  Avedon,  and  it 
is  fascinating  to  see  that  to  each  she  is  a  different  person.  She  shows 
me  two  proofs  and  asks  me  which  one  I  prefer  and  I  hardly  recognize 
her  in  them,  she  was  so  able  to  change  with  the  photographer's  image 

of  her. 

The  ideal  of  being  a  model,  which  was  a  very  real  one  in  the  years 
that  I  began  to  practice  fashion  photography,  (it  was  almost  like 
being  a  movie  star,  if  you  were  a  great  model)  has  disappeared  pretty 
much  now.  Most  of  the  important  models  feel  that  they  are  on  their 
way  to  something  else.  Modeling  keeps  money  coming  in  while  they 
go  to  acting  class,  make  minor  movies,  or  follow  other  personal 
activities.  As  an  end  in  itself  being  a  model  is  no  longer  part  of  the 
American  Dream. 

Let  me  give  you  a  typical  day  of  a  fashion  sitting.  At  ten  o'clock  in 
the  morning  a  bedraggled  girl  comes  through  the  door,  pulling  a  bag 
behind  her,  and  she  looks  like  the  wrath  of  God.  She's  this  great 
beauty;  she's  gotten  there  a  bit  late;  she's  unmade-up  and  looks  ter- 
rible. And  she  looks  kind  of  adorable  too,  because  she  looks  like  she's 
j  ust  awakened,  and  she  has.  She  throws  herself  in  front  of  a  mirror 
and  starts  making  faces  at  herself  to  see  whether  she's  going  to  be 
able  to  pull  herself  together;  and  she  turns  to  somebody  there,  some 
young  editor,  and  says,  "Will  you  please  get  me  some  breakfast?"  So 
out  goes  the  call  for  breakfast.  Then  she  starts  smearing  something 
on  her  face.  I  come  in,  say  good  morning,  and  we  say  a  few  silly 
words,  and  then  twenty  or  thirty  minutes  later,  in  comes  the  hair- 
dresser. He's  late  too,  telling  how  terrible  everything  is,  he  couldn't 


126  Irving  Penn 


get  a  taxi,  and  so  on,  dragging  his  bag  behind.  This  goes  on  and  sud- 
denly it's  noon  and  people  are  beginning  to  think  about  food.  Some- 
one sends  out  for  food,  and  it  comes  late.  About  one-thirty  or  two 
o'clock  you  get  her  in  front  of  the  camera.  You  only  take  three  pic- 
tures, because  by  four  o'clock  the  hair  has  gone  dead,  and  has  to  be 
set  in  curlers  again.  People  come  and  go  with  clothes,  and  they  forget 
to  send  the  earrings.  It's  a  very  time-consuming  thing.  The  important 
thing  from  a  photographer's  point  of  view  is  to  hold  on  to  the  image 
through  all  this  debilitating,  weakening  nonsense. 

As  a  man,  I  am  pleased  by  a  woman's  paint  and  powder,  her 
seductive  ways  of  dressing,  the  little  decorations  and  toys  of  vanity 
that  spice  her  life.  As  a  photographer  I  enjoy  observing  and  studying 
those  aspects  of  life  and  I  do  not  apologize  for  my  taste  that  some- 
times leans  to  the  frivolous  and  the  superficial. 

On  the  other  hand,  in  portrait  photography  there  is  something 
more  profound  that  we  seek  inside  a  person,  while  being  painfully 
aware  that  a  limitation  of  our  medium  is  that  the  inside  is  recordable 
only  insofar  as  it  is  apparent  on  the  outside.  There  is  a  definite  hour 
for  the  sitting.  The  subject  comes  to  the  door,  we  sit  together  for  a  few 
minutes  to  talk  trying  to  find  common  ground,  a  point  of  sympathy 
and  contact.  During  the  small  talk  I  make  a  commitment  as  to  the 
visual  direction  I  am  going  to  take.  I  invite  the  subject  to  the  camera. 
I  begin  to  search  for  an  attitude,  and  then  begin  to  expose  film.  I  fol- 
low my  plan  through  to  what  may  be  a  dead  end  or  to  success.  Then 
we  shake  hands  and  say  good-bye.  Even  the  most  sympathetic  sitting 
never  takes  more  than  an  hour  and  a  half,  small  talk  included.  More 
often  it's  over  in  thirty  or  forty  minutes. 

The  precarious  point  is  where  I  as  the  photographer  commit  my- 
self to  the  direction  the  picture  will  follow.  This  decision  is  based 
mostly  on  instinct  and  can  turn  out  to  have  been  a  mistake,  but  I  stick 
with  it.  I  have  found  that  for  me  it  is  fatal  to  change  directions  radi- 
cally in  the  middle  of  a  sitting.  I  lose  the  subject.  His  confidence  goes, 
his  eyes  become  glassy  and  I  had  better  close  the  camera. 

Working  professionally  leaves  little  room  for  failures.  This  is 
especially  true  in  portraiture.  Someone  is  invited  to  come  and  pose 
for  you  and  you  make  a  picture.  If  it's  not  very  good  it  must  still  be 
published.  It  is  embarrassing  and  difficult  for  the  magazine  to  say, 
"Look,  these  pictures  didn't  come  off,  you  better  do  it  again."  It  would 
also  be  a  waste  of  money. 

But  a  point  I'd  like  to  make  is  that  having  to  always  produce  a 
publishable  result  forces  you  to  play  it  safer  than  you'd  like  to,  be- 
cause the  result  must  be  publishable.  In  journalism,  and  even  more 
so  in  advertising  photography,  the  unforgivable  sin  is  to  come  out  of 
a  sitting  without  something  that  can  be  put  on  the  printed  page. 
That's  worse  than  banality. 

I  began  work  in  portraiture  as  a  parallel  activity  to  fashion  pho- 
tography. Vogue,  the  magazine  I  worked  for,  consumed  an  endless 
number  of  photographs  of  dresses  and  of  beautiful  women,  but  pep- 
pered through  its  pages  were  photographs  of  people  in  the  arts  and 
public  life.  It  was  the  style  of  the  publication  to  have  these  pictures 
be  very  personal  and  expressive  (for  want  of  a  better  word)  where 
sometimes  the  personality  of  the  photographer  became  as  important 
as  that  of  the  subject  himself.  Portraiture  for  me  was  a  welcome  bal- 
ance to  the  fashion  diet  and  I  was  happy  to  go  back  and  forth  from 
one  to  the  other. 


127  Irving  Penn 


Irving  Penn,  Louts  Jouvet,  New  York. 
1951,  Copyright  ©  1960  by  The  Conde 
Nast  Publications  Inc. 


I  invited  many  of  the  remarkable  people  of  our  time,  mostly  in  the 
arts,  because  that  was  my  taste  and  also  most  useful  to  the  magazine, 
to  come  and  pose.  The  invitation  was  usually  quite  loose.  Since  most 
pictures  were  not  being  pointed  to  a  definite  publication  date,  we 
were  able  to  say,  "when  you  are  next  in  New  York,"  or  "when  you 
come  to  America." 

I  recall  there  was  always  a  more  or  less  noticeable  difference  in 
mood  in  photographing  people  in  the  studio  and  in  their  homes.  Sub- 
jects  who  came  to  the  strangeness  of  the  studio  sometimes  seemed  to 
feel  themselves  at  a  disadvantage,  that  their  stature  was  not  entirely 
evident,  that  their  identity  had  to  be  established  before  we  began  to 
photograph.  I  sympathized  with  and  understood  this  feeling  and 
tried  not  to  confront  them  too  soon  with  the  apparatus  of  the  picture 
taking.  There  was  always  a  time  to  talk,  a  soothing  of  apprehensive- 
ness,  that  was  a  necessary  prelude.  I  almost  always  did  my  home- 
work before  a  sitting.  I  saw  it  as  a  discipline  as  important  as  checking 
out  the  equipment.  Knowing  a  writer's  or  a  painter's  work,  or  having 
seen  a  dancer  perform,  is  a  vital  ingredient  in  a  portrait  sitting.  He's 
sometimes  overwhelmed  when  you  know  some  little  thing  about  his 
professional  existence.  In  a  creative  person  the  fabric  of  self-belief 
can  be  very  thin  and  easily  damaged. 

I  have  at  times  seduced  myself  into  a  mystical  belief  in  the  pene- 
trative power  of  the  camera,  but  reflection  always  brings  me  back  to 
accepting  the  picture  process  as  simply  the  bounce  back  of  light  from 
a  momentary  arrangement  of  atoms  that  are  a  face.  But  that  is  not 
to  say  that  the  power  of  a  tender  word,  or  a  clumsy  one,  to  affect  those 
atoms,  can  be  overstated.  When  the  light  and  the  situation  for  the 


128   Irving  Penn 


Irving  Penn,  Picasso,  Cannes,  1957, 
Copyright  ©  1960  by  Irving  Penn, 
photographed  on  assignment  for 
Vogue  Magazine. 


portrait  picture  are  found  and  the  sculptural  arrangement  made,  it 
may  be  that  the  word  is  after  all  at  the  heart  of  the  whole  thing. 

I  myself  have  always  stood  in  awe  of  the  camera.  I  recognize  it  for 
the  instrument  it  is,  part  Stradivarius,  part  scalpel.  I  sympathize  with 
and  respect  anyone  who,  confronted  with  a  portrait  camera,  is  aware 
of  the  consequences.  Responses  to  the  prospect  of  being  examined  by 
a  camera  are  as  different  as  people  are,  but  one  reaction  that  has 
been  common  enough  for  me  to  speak  of,  (and  probably  especially 
typical  of  the  kind  of  subject  I  have  had)  was  that  of  the  person  in  the 
public  eye  who  came  to  the  door  of  the  studio  and  seemed  to  be  push- 
ing ahead  of  him  an  image  of  himself  that  he  wanted  to  have  publicly 
presented;  and  in  this  enterprise  he  wanted  (and  even  expected!)  my 
collaboration.  That  kind  of  person  could  only  be  disappointed,  (some- 
times enraged)  by  the  persistent  penetration  that  portrait  photog- 
raphy meant  to  me  as  I  understood  my  job  and  my  commitment. 

Sensitive  people  faced  with  the  prospect  of  a  camera  portrait  put 
on  a  face  they  think  is  one  they  would  like  to  show  the  world.  This 
facade  is  protective  and  they  are  most  pleased  if  the  photographer 
will  idealize  their  fond  image  of  themselves.  I  am  not  at  all  tender, 
(I  think  of  myself  as  neutral)  as  I  seek  to  make  an  incision  in  the 
presented  facade.  I  do  not  think  this  is  cruel.  Very  often  what  lies 
behind  the  facade  is  rare  and  more  wonderful  than  the  subject  knows 
or  dares  to  believe.  In  any  event,  as  a  journalist  I  have  always  felt 
that  my  obligation  was  to  the  reader  and  not  to  the  vanity  of  the 
subject. 

The  hardest  thing  in  the  world  for  me  is  to  photograph  somebody 
that  I  care  about  in  a  personal  way,  like  a  member  of  the  family,  be- 


129  Irving  Penn 


Irving  Perm,  Cecil  Beaton,  London, 
1950,  Copyright  ©  1958  by  Les  Editions 
Conde  Nast  S.A. 


cause  the  photographic  process  is  basically  somewhat  cruel.  It's  the 
kind  of  thing  that  you  wouldn't  want  to  subject  someone  to  whom 
you  really  care  about. 

The  idyllic  existence  of  doing  portraits  for  Vogue  went  on  for  two 
or  three  fruitful  years  in  New  York.  And  a  couple  of  times  each  year, 
I  was  able  to  make  trips  to  visit  subjects  in  foreign  countries.  Portrait 
making  on  the  road  was  similar  to  that  in  New  York,  although  it  was 
simpler  and  the  equipment  more  portable.  In  New  York,  I  depended 
on  a  large  view  camera,  a  wide  bank  of  electric  lights,  and  a  heavy 
tripod.  While  traveling,  I  used  the  Rolleiflex,  a  light  tripod,  and  the 
light  from  the  nearest  window.  Daylight  is  the  most  delicious  of  the 
several  kinds  of  light  available  to  a  photographer. 

Over  a  period  of  years,  my  assignments  have  taken  me  to  far 
places,  where  I  have  had  the  privilege  of  photographing  anonymous, 
simple  people,  with  most  of  whom  I  could  not  communicate  in  words. 
This  deficiency  left  me  unusually  dependent  on  making  use  of  the 
externals  of  their  appearance — their  costume,  body  paint,  hair,  and 
face  make-up.  The  special  skills  and  experience  that  came  of  fashion 
photography,  being  able  to  quickly  find  the  essence  of  a  costume  or 
an  attitude,  were  invaluable.  But  since  these  subjects  were  also  com- 
plete people,  there  was  always  the  potential  of  a  surprise  human  re- 
sponse that  could  enrich  the  picture.  In  the  strangeness  of  our  re- 
lationship I  could  not  depend  on  this  happening,  but  it  did  happen 
often  enough  to  make  those  results  particularly  worthwhile. 


130  Irving  Penn 


I  wonder  if  the  limitations  I've  spoken  of  were  not  sometimes  more 
imagined  than  real.  Because  of  the  difference  in  our  lives,  even  words 
in  common  would  not  have  bridged  the  gap.  In  any  event  the  lack  of 
words  threw  my  dependence  onto  physical  touch.  I  found  that  a 
jungle  person  in  the  Pacific  responded  as  warmly  to  a  gentle  arm 
around  his  shoulder  as  a  nubile  young  girl  in  Africa  did.  And  the  tone 
of  my  voice,  which  must  at  times  have  sounded  to  them  more  like 
animal  murmurings  than  intelligent  speech,  was  everywhere  under- 
stood. At  times  I  felt  a  mutual  understanding  and  human  closeness 
with  people  in  the  savannahs  of  Africa  or  the  jungles  of  New  Guinea, 
that  I  have  only  rarely  felt  at  home. 

I  didn't  realize  that  a  book  was  in  the  making  until  I  was  halfway 
through  it.  I  was  taking  people  out  of  their  natural  environment, 
putting  them  into  studios  that  I  had  taken  with  me  or  built,  and 
working  in  various  parts  of  the  world  by  daylight.  One  day  I  realized 
that  there  was  no  other  place  I  wanted  to  go  to  continue  this  series: 
we  had  used  up  the  world,  and  I  realized  that  Worlds  in  a  Small  Room 
was  finished.  It  was  then  important  to  put  the  individual  essays  to- 
gether in  book  form,  and  to  publish  them  in  order  to  be  free  of  the 
material  and  to  be  able  to  go  on  to  new  work. 

I  confess  I  am  sensitive  about  this,  but  to  tell  you  the  truth,  the 
book  was  either  clobbered  or  generally  ignored.  It  is  still  hard  to  find 
it  in  most  bookshops.  The  usual  criticism  was,  "Why  was  it  necessary 
to  do  pictures  this  way?  Why  couldn't  you  have  photographed  your 
subjects  where  they  were  instead  of  taking  them  out  of  their  own 
circumstances  into  this  unnatural  environment?"  It  is  as  though  no 
one  had  bothered  to  read  the  text. 

I'm  interested  in  why  it  is  not  acceptable  to  people  in  book  form, 
since  it  had  such  enormous  reader  interest  when  it  came  out  each 
time  in  a  number  of  Vogue  Christmas  issues.  My  relationship  with 
Vogue  through  the  years  has  been  nearly  an  ideal  one.  During  the 
most  productive  period  my  assignments  were  free  and  generous, 
often  just,  "Bring  us  a  treasure  for  the  next  Christmas  issue."  That 
was  all  I  really  wanted  to  hear:  usually  they  gave  me  a  year  to  com- 
plete the  assignment.  It  took  many  months  of  preparation;  it  would 
start  with  dinner  with  the  ambassador  of  that  country.  You  couldn't 
just  barge  in;  it's  too  precarious.  You  might  do  that  with  a  camera  on 
your  hip,  but  you  can't  deposit  yourself  in  the  middle  of  Africa  with 
an  entourage  and  a  studio  and  say,  "Look,  I'm  here." 

One  session  that  became  part  of  the  book  may  be  interesting  to 
talk  about,  the  sitting  with  the  Hell's  Angels.  I  was  terrified  of  them, 
physically  frightened.  They're  terrifying,  psychotic  people  who  can 
kill  as  easily  as  they  can  love.  I  must  tell  you  something  that  I  did  for 
self-preservation;  I  asked  them  to  bring  their  families.  So,  in  fact,  at 
the  time  their  wives  and  children  were  in  the  studio. 

The  ritual  of  arranging  the  sittings  with  the  Angels  was  amusing. 
Our  side  sent  an  emissary,  and  their  side  sent  an  emissary  and  the 
emissaries  talked  in  a  preliminary  meeting  like  foreign  ministers.  It 
was  decided  that  we  would  all  meet  in  a  San  Francisco  park  at  noon. 
At  about  one  minute  to  twelve  we  left  our  parked  car.  Then  suddenly 
we  heard  the  screech  and  rising  pitch  of  their  motorbikes  as  they 
came  near.  They  parked  and  we  approached  them  across  the  grass. 
They  stayed  where  they  were.  We  went  to  them. 

I  think  they  were  important  to  me;  they  were  visually  interesting. 
The  sitting  itself  was  frightening.  It  was  kind  of  a  chancy  thing  to  do 

131  Irving  Penn 


Irving  Penn,  Andaglimb  Warrior,  New 
Guinea,  1970,  Copyright  ©  1974  by 
Irving  Penn,  photographed  on  assign- 
ment for  Vogue  Magazine. 


132  Irving  Penn 


Irving  Penn,  Cuzco  Children,  1948, 
Copyright  ©  1960  by  The  Conde  Nast 
Publications  Inc. 


Irving  Penn,  A  Young  Berber  Shep- 
herdess, Morocco,  1971,  Copyright© 
1974  by  Irving  Penn,  photographed  on 
assignment  for  Vogue  Magazine. 


133  Irving  Penn 


Irving  Penn,  Hell's  Angel  —  Doug, 
Copyright  ©  1947  by  Cowles  Communi- 
cations Inc. 


134  Irving  Penn 


and  I  wanted  to  see  if  I  could  pull  it  off.  And  it  only  half  worked  be- 
cause I  couldn't  really  tangle  with  them.  I  couldn't  make  a  real  pic- 
ture. I  could  simply  get  an  image  of  them  and  that  had  to  do,  because 
they  were  just  unmanageable.  In  my  apprehensiveness,  I  hurried  the 
pictures  so  that  the  results  are  only  half  successful,  although  no 
other  subjects  in  the  book  fascinate  readers  as  the  Angels  do. 

As  a  photographer,  the  realism  of  the  real  world  is  something 
almost  unbearable  to  me.  There's  too  much  accidental  painfulness  in 
it.  I  must  tell  you  that  walking  through  that  room  downstairs  and 
looking  at  the  walls,  I  realized  that  there  is  one  very  old-fashioned 
photographer  there  and  that's  me.  The  photographic  process  for  me 
is  primarily  simplification  and  elimination.  It's  that  simplification 
that  I  need  in  a  picture  that  really  relates  more  to  old  painting  and 
old  sculpture.  Dealing  with  the  accidental  accumulation  of  things 
that  occurs  in  real  life,  as  Walker  Evans  did  so  brilliantly,  is  some- 
thing I  can't  cope  with. 

Photography  disturbs  me  when  it  is  used  as  propaganda,  however 
benign.  I  am  especially  sensitive  to  this  because  it  is  an  area  of  per- 
sonal struggle  in  my  work.  Since  I  have  been  a  commercial  photog- 
rapher almost  all  of  my  professional  life  I  have  come  now  to  yearn  for 
a  personal  photography  that  does  not  try  to  manipulate  anyone. 

Gene  Smith's  extraordinary  pictures  are  disturbing  to  me  not 
only  because  they  show  horror  but  also  because  with  them,  he  wants 
to  bring  about  certain  political,  social  changes.  To  me  that  is  a  form 
of  commercial  photography.  He  thinks  of  himself  as  a  great  photo- 
journalist;  that  is  his  genius.  But  for  me,  at  least,  I  find  his  genius 
more  in  his  individual  images  which  are  much  finer  than  the  units 
assembled  as  essays.  I  dwell  on  this  because  it's  very  important  for 
photographers  to  face  what  they  are  trying  to  accomplish  with  their 
pictures. 

Smith's  pictures  are  among  the  most  propagandistic  pictures 
ever  taken,  and  I'm  not  sure  that  is  a  very  lasting  quality.  Consider 
Richard  Avedon.  He  is  brilliant  in  almost  everything  he  does.  But  he 
undervalues  his  work  done  for  commerce.  Yet  I  would  not  be  sur- 
prised if  his  most  lasting  pictures  were  among  the  things  he  cares 
least  about.  I  feel  sure  that  Avedon's  pictures  done  for  advertisement 
and  as  commercial  fashion  pages  in  Harper's  Bazaar  and  Vogue  are 
among  his  most  brilliant  photographs,  and  stand  as  one  of  the  vital 
records  of  our  lives  today.  You  say  that  Robert  Frank  told  you  that 
he  does  not  value  his  still  pictures  as  much  as  his  films.  I  am  very 
touched  by  Robert  Frank's  pictures.  Unlike  Smith's,  they  are  passive 
observations  about  society.  I  am  pleased  that  he  is  not  trying  to  bring 
about  any  change  in  me.  Maybe  the  artist  is  least  able  to  appraise 
what  he  himself  does. 

I'd  like  also  to  mention  another  area  of  my  work,  more  private, 
and  as  yet  unseen.  Next  month,  May  1975,  at  New  York's  Museum  of 
Modern  Art,  a  group  of  pictures  will  be  shown,  large  platinum  prints 
of  cigarettes  on  fine  paper  which  I  sensitize  myself.  I  began  to  love 
what  occurs  when  you  coat  good  paper  by  hand  with  these  remark- 
able metals.  My  delight  in  the  material  itself  makes  me  seek  out  sub- 
ject matter  that  will  best  take  advantage  of  its  possibilities. 

My  first  work  in  platinum  metals,  as  I  was  learning  the  medium, 
was  in  reprinting  early  work  which  had  been  done  for  the  printed 
page,  done  to  reach  its  existence  in  ink  on  a  high  speed  press.  While 
the  platinum  versions  are  very  beautiful,  they  are  sort  of  bastard 

135  Irving  Penn 


Irving  Perm,  Theatre  Accident,  Copy- 
right ©  1947  by  The  Conde  Nast  Publi- 
cations Inc. 


136  Irving  Penn 


Irving  Penn,  Cigarette,  Copyright  © 
1974  by  Irving  Penn. 


pictures,  and  I  have  very  mixed  feelings  about  them.  They're  being 
shown  in  an  Italian  museum  at  this  moment,  and  perhaps  that's 
where  they  belong.  There's  something  somewhat  uncontemporary 
about  them.  John  Szarkowski,  looking  at  these  pictures  said,  "You 
know,  it  makes  clear  to  me  that  some  pictures  are  better  in  silver, 
some  are  better  in  platinum,  but  some  are  better  in  ink."  He  was 
right.  These  first  platinum  prints  of  mine  were  translations  of  images 
made  for  the  printed  page.  Some  vitality  was  sacrificed  when  they 
were  beautifully  printed,  because  they  were  really  journalistic  in 
their  original  conception. 

Whereas  the  things  to  be  shown  in  the  Modern  museum  are  com- 
pletely contemporary.  They  may  be  disturbing,  but  they  were  not 
done  for  the  printed  page.  They  won't  even  look  good  on  the  printed 
page.  But  they  are  right  for  their  medium  and  are  meant  to  be  seen 
as  objects,  not  in  ink. 

What  I  yearn  for  in  criticism  of  photography  is  a  tactile  reaction, 
something  more  visual,  rather  than  just  concepts.  The  contemporary 
critics  speak  around  the  outside  of  photography;  they  speak  of  it  as 
a  social  document,  as  all  kinds  of  things  except  what  it  is  sitting 
there  in  front  of  us.  For  me,  photography  is  nothing  new.  The  ma- 
chine is  new,  but  photography  is  just  the  present  stage  of  man's  vis- 
ual history.  What  I  yearn  for  as  a  photographer  is  someone  who  will 
connect  the  work  of  photographers  to  that  of  sculptors  and  painters 
of  the  past.  I  don't  think  we  get  this  from  contemporary  criticism. 


fintftrnr 


137  Irving  Penn 


Robert 
Coles 


Robert  Martin  Coles  was  born  in  1929 
and  educated  at  Harvard,  Columbia, 
and  the  University  of  Chicago.  At  pres- 
ent, he  is  a  research  psychiatrist  with 
the  Harvard  University  Health  Ser- 
vices. He  has  authored  hundreds  of  ar- 
ticles and  over  fifteen  books,  most  of 
which  are  aimed  at  dissolving  the 
stereotypes  that  different  groups  of 
Americans  hold  of  one  another.  His 
work  has  won  him  numerous  awards 
and  honorary  degrees;  the  three  vol- 
umes of  Children  of  Crisis  earned, 
among  other  distinctions,  the  Pulitzer 
Prize  and  the  Weatherford  Prize.  He 
currently  serves  on  the  editorial  board 
of  Aperture  and  is  working  with  a  pho- 
tographer in  the  creation  of  two  more 
volumes  of  Children  of  Crisis,  one  on 
Indians,  Chicanos,  and  Eskimos,  the 
other  on  children  of  upper  middle  class 
families. 


138  Robert  Coles 


The  whole  issue  of  the  relationship  of  writers  to  photographers  is  in 
certain  ways  a  microcosm  of  some  of  the  exploitative  injustices  that 
go  on  in  this  society.  If  I  were  a  photographer  I  would  be  very  hesitant 
to  have  the  wordiness  of  another  discipline  be  the  means  by  which 
whatever  I'm  doing  becomes  known  to,  evaluated  by,  and  responded 
to  by  other  people.  There  is  tension,  I  think,  between  the  nature  of  our 
society  (which  is  so  wordy)  and  what  the  photographer  is  about.  I 
don't  mean  to  get  nasty  about  this,  bringing  in  St.  Paul,  but  there  is 
this  issue  of  "the  word,"  both  as  a  source  of  power  and  of  orthodoxy 
and  ultimately  of  persecution,  vis-a-vis  "looking"  and  then  record- 
ing, and  then  not  saying  anything,  but  simply  going  on  to  look  once 
again  and  give  life  to  or  permanence  to  what  is  seen. 

We  go  to  museums  and  we  watch  people.  They'll  look  at  some- 
thing, and  they  can't  just  look  at  it;  they  have  to  go  and  talk  about  it. 
The  ultimate  test  is,  can  it  be  put  into  words?  That's  what  I  mean  by 
exploiting  the  relationship.  So  many  photographers  I  know  will  tell 
you  that  if  some  wordy  character  like  myself  is  willing  to  write  an 
introduction  or  a  text  to  accompany  photographs,  then  it  can  be  pub- 
lished. Photographs  themselves,  except  in  very  rare  cases,  do  not 
stand  on  their  own.  I  defy  anyone  to  accept  a  text  that  would  say: 
"LOOK,  exclamation  mark,  signed  Robert  Coles."  That  wouldn't  get 
very  far.  But  if  I  go  on  and  on  and  on  and  draw  upon  my  own  work 
and  am  eloquent,  then  they  say,  "The  photographs  are  beautiful."  Or, 
"The  photographs  are  eloquent."  I  mean,  how  can  the  photographs 
be  eloquent?  Well,  they're  eloquent  in  the  eyes  of  those  who  are  pre- 
occupied with  words.  So  they  use  words  like,  "They  eloquently  com- 
plement Dr.  Coles'  moving  text.  At  which  point  one  is  just  ready  to 
write  to  the  critic  and  say,  never  mind! 

While  writers  and  essayists  assault  one  another,  divide  them- 
selves from  one  another,  carry  on  with  one  another  in  ways  that  can 
only  be  called  fratricidal,  there  is  no  one  to  pass  judgment  upon  them 
with  a  picture:  a  picture  of  a  writer  at  work,  sitting  at  his  desk  pour- 
ing out  venom,  invading  another  field  with  a  pen.  The  picture  cannot 
do  justice  to  what  has  happened  between  this  mind  and  the  neuro- 
physiological  system  that  connects  with  the  ballpoint  pen  or  the  type- 
writer. But  that  process,  if  you  will,  can  somehow  come  to  an  entire 
field  with  devastation  and  all  too  much  authority,  once  published  in 
an  influential  magazine.  No  one  dares  take  issue  with  it,  not  even 
with  the  language.  Photographers  don't  understand  the  complexities 
of  that  particular  language.  Writers  don't  understand  it  and  are 
afraid  to  acknowledge  that  they  don't  understand  it.  And  the  tyr- 
anny goes  on. 

Why  is  it  that  so  many  photographers  have  to  get  involved  with 
and  be  dependent  on  these  writers?  Is  it  the  power  of  words,  the  glory 
of  words,  the  editors,  the  publishers,  the  whole  culture,  the  way  we 
are?  And  what  can  one  do  to  break  out  of  that?  How  can  the  whole 
society  break  out  of  it,  never  mind  me  or  the  photographer?  Write 
back  to  the  publisher  and  say,  "Listen,  buddy!  Cut  it  out!  Why  don't 
you  write  to  Benjamin  Britten  and  ask  him  to  compose  an  opera  and 
link  it  up  to  these  photographs?  And  how  about  a  sculptor?"  But  ap- 
parently, paper,  which  is  what  the  writer  and  the  photographer  have 
in  common,  is  not  enough.  We  need  words,  texts,  introductions  to 
something  that  one  looks  at  which  seems  to  be  quite  enough  some- 
times, not  nearly  enough  at  other  times.  But  believe  me,  not  salvage- 
able by  an  eloquent  text. 


139  Robert  Coles 


I  constantly  get  sent  photographs  of  people  by  social  activists  be- 
cause I'm  supposed  to  be  a  social  activist  and  because  I've  written 
some  texts  to  photography  books.  I  certainly  don't  know  anything 
about  photography  that  has  to  do  with  the  tradition  of  photography. 
I  have  no  right  to  be  a  critic,  although  it's  a  commentary  on  this  field 
that  if  I  wanted  to  become  a  photography  critic  since  I  write  book  re- 
views, I  could.  That  shows  you  how  awful  the  whole  situation  is.  An 
ignorant  person  like  me  could  become,  if  he  wanted  to,  a  photography 
critic.  I  could  write  a  weekly  column  for  the  New  Republic  on  photog- 
raphy books  if  I  had  the  time  and  wanted  to  do  it,  which  is  a  disgust- 
ing commentary.  Where  are  the  people  who  have  some  ability  to  eval- 
uate photographs?  Maybe  those  people  aren't  interested  in  writing  a 
single  word  about  them.  This  is  a  dilemma. 

There  are  now  very  few  reviews  of  the  relatively  few  books  on 
photography  that  have  come  out.  So  I  get  the  feeling  that  there's  a 
power  problem  here  of  some  kind  and  that  there's  a  clique  of  people 
that  seems  to  control  this  profession.  The  great  American  tradition  is 
supposed  to  have  diversity  and  many  centers  of  power,  but  I  don't 
get  that  feeling  about  photography.  For  instance,  Alex  Harris  may 
be  the  worst  photographer  that  ever  lived.  He  is  very  good— but  let 
us  speculate.  Now,  why  should  he  have  done  one  book  and  be  work- 
ing on  another  one  just  because  of  me?  No  one  has  really  criticized  or 
evaluated  his  photographs.  They've  evaluated  the  text  that  goes  with 
the  photographs.  In  each  case  they  say,  "moving,  eloquent."  The  poor 
man  needs  a  critic,  but  no  one  is  giving  him  any  help.  And  even  if  I 
could  push  him  into  the  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  which  I  might  be 
able  to  do  from  sheer  arrogance  and  power  manipulation,  it's  obscene 
how  this  whole  thing  works. 

Earlier  today  I  was  discussing  with  some  students  some  of  the 
irony  of  my  own  work.  I  was  trained  in  psychiatry,  where  even  dreams 
have  been  taken  over  by  the  wordy  people  who  insist  on  talking  about 
free  associations.  How  often  do  we  acknowledge  to  ourselves,  to  the 
world  at  large,  that  a  dream  is  not  the  interpretations;  it's  not  even 
what  is  said  by  the  patient  who  has  the  dream;  but  the  dream  is  pic- 
tures? The  dream  is  a  series  of  pictures.  There  are  some  physiologists 
who  say  that  the  words  come  when  we  wake  up.  We  don't  know.  How 
will  we  ever  know?  Who's  ever  going  to  be  able  to  disentangle  the 
mind?  In  any  event,  at  a  minimum,  the  dream  is  pictures.  But  you 
read  the  interpretation  of  dreams,  you  read  people  talking  about 
dreams,  and  you  get  the  feeling  that  a  dream  is  someone  who  is 
asleep  who  is  talking,  who  then  wakes  up  and  remembers  what  has 
been  said,  then  tells  it  to  the  psychiatrist  who  listens,  and  then  does 
yet  more  talking.  And  the  whole  thing  is  then  written  up,  then  read, 
then  talked  about  and  reviewed,  and  there  are  the  words.  Ad  infini- 
tum, if  not,  at  times,  ad  nauseum. 

I'm  doubly  tied  to  language.  I'm  a  psychiatrist  and  so  I  listen  to 
people  talk  (or  at  least  I  was  trained  to  be  a  psychiatrist  and  was 
trained  to  listen  to  people  talk,  by  people  who,  in  turn,  listened  to  me 
talk  and  made  comments  on  what  I  was  saying  to  them) .  When  I 
started  doing  the  work  that  I've  been  doing  for  the  past  twenty  years 
I  thought  that  I  had  better  have  a  tape-recorder.  And  the  reason  I 
thought  I  needed  a  tape-recorder  is  that  since  I'm  a  scientist,  if  I  say 
I  have  tape-recorded  interviews  then  that  will  be  science.  If  I  say  that 
I  listened  to  someone  and  here  is  the  heart  of  what  I  heard,  or  the  es- 
sence of  what  I  heard,  or  even  worse,  if  I  say  I  listened  to  someone  and 


140  Robert  Coles 


I  will  try  to  evoke  something  about  that  person  for  you,  then  I  would 
slip  out  of  my  authoritative,  all  too  influential  situation,  and  end  up 
without  even  the  authority  that  a  novelist  or  a  poet  would  have.  So 
one  treasures  whatever  credentials  and  authority  one  has  come  upon 
and  purchases  the  nearest  Sony,  and  goes  home  to  a  wife  who  is  fed 
up  with  the  Sony  and  maybe  even  with  the  methodological  design  of 
the  research  project.  After  a  few  weeks,  one  begins  to  think  of  one- 
self as  a  little  confused  and  a  little  troubled  and  a  little  wacky.  So 
then  one  decides  to  get  rid  of  the  Sony,  but  one  can  always  say  one 
has  tape-recorded  interviews  because  one  has  tape-recorded  some 
interviews.  And  out  in  the  "field"  one  listens  and  watches  television 
and  doesn't  do  much  talking,  particularly  because  people  don't  want 
to  do  much  talking.  Why  should  I  talk?  And  what  is  one  going  to  ask 
them?  "Well,  how's  it  going  today?"  "Well,  it's  going  pretty  good." 
"Well,  how  are  you  feeling  today?"  "Feeling  pretty  good." 

This  is  the  age  of  self-consciousness  as  we  all  know.  Everything 
that  we  do  and  say  has  to  be  put  into  words  and  we  have  to  be  aware 
if  we  breathe.  If  we  speak,  if  we  have  a  thought,  it's  related  to  some- 
thing else  we've  thought  or  spoken  about.  We  have  a  motive,  a  pur- 
pose, and  this  must  be  analyzed  and  verbalized.  We  have  people 
meeting  in  what's  called  a  sensitivity  group,  where  they  talk  to  one 
another  and  put  out  on  the  table  what's  happening  to  them.  And  God 
forbid  if  anyone  keeps  quiet.  That  isn't  a  matter  of  civility,  or  abhor- 
ence  of  rudeness  and  vulgarity  and  banality;  that  is  "resistance," 
and  a  problem.  And  the  problem  will  be  solved  if  it  is  spoken  and  if 
it's  all  out  there.  And  of  course  one  goes  round  and  round,  and  what 
comes  out  there  but  all  the  mess  that  we  all  are?  And  this  is  a  "dis- 
covery." And  it  is  "therapeutic."  One  reports  to  a  profession,  to  meet- 
ings, so  one  comes  home  and  writes  up,  "This  person  was  so-and-so 
and  I  think  this  and  such-and-such." 

Let  me  move  from  here  to  a  story  told  by  an  Indian  grandmother 
in  New  Mexico.  The  story  is  of  an  anthropologist  who  for  years  was 
collecting  "data"  on  a  reservation.  He  collected  it,  and  collected  it, 
and  collected  it.  And  she,  as  an  informant,  helped  him  collect  it.  He 
wrote  it  up  and  then  something  happened.  He  stopped  collecting  his 
data  and  started  making  comments.  One  is  told  by  this  woman  that 
he  wasn't  even  interested  in  writing  his  Ph.D.  thesis,  and  that  he 
didn't  even  care  about  all  the  data  that  he  had  been  collecting. 
Whereupon  one  thinks,  "Oh  my  God,  a  collapse."  Then  one  is  even 
told  that  he  was  drinking  a  lot.  "Well,  an  alcoholic  collapse."  Then, 
he  used  to  start  to  walk  away  from  some  of  the  homes  out  toward  the 
mesas  and  look  up  at  the  sky,  and  sometimes  take  out  his  bottle  and 
have  a  drink,  and  then  come  back.  And  lo  and  behold,  as  he  started 
doing  this  more  and  more,  he  moved  his  data  out  of  the  house  where 
he  was  staying  and  put  it  in  his  open  convertible  car  (and  this  is  "The 
Treasure  of  the  Sierra  Madre"  coming  up) ,  and  one  day,  rain,  wind, 
thunder  and  lightning,  and  the  dispersal  of  all  this  into  the  country- 
side. End  of  story,  whereupon  ever  acutely  one  turns  to  her  and  says 
(because  we  are  clinicians  and  we  have  a  case  history  and  we  have  to 
know  something) ,  "Well,  then  what  happened?"  And  then  one  is  told, 
"That's  what  happened."  At  which  point,  one  thinks  one  needs  a  lit- 
tle bit  more,  how  do  you  say  it,  training? 

Again,  what  has  all  this  got  to  do  with  photography?  I  started 
doing  this  writing  and  I  wrote,  and  I  wrote,  and  I  wrote.  My  wife  car- 
ried around  a  brownie  camera  which  she  liked  to  use  with  certain 


141  Robert  Coles 


abandon.  I  started  asking  her  if  I  could  look  at  some  of  the  pictures 
she'd  taken  of  the  children  whom  I  had  met  and  come  to  know.  As  I 
was  trying  to  write  about  the  children,  somehow  I  felt  that  in  those 
pictures  there  was  something  of  a  particular  child  that  would  come 
across  to  me  that  my  mind  needed  to  have  come  across,  that  all  of  the 
words  I  had  written  down  or  that  I  had  circling  around  in  my  head 
were  not  getting  at.  This  does  not  mean  that  there  is  not  a  value  to 
words.  This  does  not  mean  that  words  and  pictures  are  antagonists. 
It  simply  means  that  there  are  times  for  some  people  when  maybe  a 
picture  means  something  and  might  even  change  the  direction  of 
some  words.  Anything  that  will  get  one  away  from  the  malignant 
wordiness  of  social  science  is  redemptive.  Anything  that  will  some- 
how puzzle  one,  and  make  one  feel  that  one  is  inadequate  to  what  one 
has  seen  with  words,  might  help  with  words. 

Alex  Harris  (a  gifted  photographer  friend  of  mine)  and  I  have  been 
doing  work  together  in  New  Mexico  and  in  Alaska.  It's  the  first  time 
that  I've  really  worked  with  a  photographer  and  I  should  tell  you 
something  about  how  he's  done  his  work.  He  must  be  a  genius  meth- 
odologically if  not  photographically.  He's  gone  and  talked  to  people 
in  New  Mexico  who  are  sick  and  tired  of  anthropologists,  who've  been 
worked  over  by  anthropologists,  as  you  may  know  now,  for  about  a 
hundred  years.  I  am  sure  that  the  anthropologists  must  have  been 
there  even  before  the  gold  seekers  were  there.  His  "technique"  is  to 
hitchhike  and  be  picked  up  by  someone  or  to  stumble  into  someone 
in  a  market  place  and  talk  to  him.  Pretty  soon  they're  introducing 
him  all  over  the  place  and  he's  taking  all  these  pictures — the  children 
love  to  have  their  pictures  taken — and  so  he  prints. 

There  is  an  increasing  number  of  photographs  in  Alaska  in  the 
hands  of  the  Eskimos  due  to  his  work  there.  Whole  villages  have  seen 
themselves,  in  a  way.  And  I  don't  mean  to  be  facetious  and  sly  about 
it:  they  have  seen  themselves.  In  a  lot  of  these  homes  they  don't  have 
mirrors  and  they're  not  used  to  looking  at  themselves.  They  have  no 
notion  of  what  they  look  like,  and  could  not  care  less,  I  might  add.  We 
know  that  to  "look"  is  an  important  thing.  I  know  myself  that  when 
these  photographers  come  out  to  take  my  picture  for  magazines  and 
so  forth,  it's  terrible,  because  what  I'm  confronted  with  is  my  vanity, 
my  narcissism,  to  use  all  those  words,  my  egoism,  my  notion  of  my- 
self. Will  this  come  across  to  the  "reader,"  to  whom  I  can  get  it  to 
come  across  with  words?  With  words  it's  under  my  control  but  once 
I  lose  that  control,  because  the  photographer  has  it,  I  feel  threatened. 
We  all,  as  you  know,  have  a  notion  of  ourselves  that  has  to  do  with 
mirrors  and  more  mirrors.  And  I  have  three  boys  and  I  noticed  the 
other  day  that  each  one  has  a  mirror.  They  look  at  themselves  in  the 
mirror,  and  we  teach  them  to  look  at  themselves  in  the  mirror.  The 
point  is,  they  have  a  notion  of  how  they  must  appear,  how  they  should 
appear,  how  other  people  look  at  them,  how  they  look,  and  all  those 
words  having  to  do  with  looking,  and  being  looked  at,  and  a  sense  of 
one's  self. 

In  our  house  we  have  these  Walker  Evans  photographs  all  over, 
and  Alex  Harris  photographs,  and  Doris  Ulmann  photographs.  I  no- 
ticed that  my  children  never  look  at  them.  Maybe  it's  because  there's 
just  so  much  around  for  them  to  see:  they're  watching  television, 
they  have  their  mirrors  in  their  rooms,  there  are  all  these  things  on 
the  walls,  we  take  them  to  museums.  They  look  at  one  another  be- 


142  Robert  Coles 


Alex  Harris,  Charlie  Cleveland,  Shung- 
nak,  Alaska,  1974. 


Walker  Evans,  Coal  Miner's  House, 
Scott's  Run,  West  Virginia,  1936. 


143  Robert  Coles 


cause  they  hear  their  mother  and  their  father  saying,  "Tuck  in  your 
shirt.  Your  grandmother  and  grandfather  are  coming  up  and  you 
have  to  look  well."  I've  never  heard  parents  in  New  Mexico,  the  rural 
South,  or  Appalachia  say,  "Go.  Really  look  good  because  someone's 
coming  to  the  house."  But  in  these  areas  there's  Sunday,  and  there's 
church,  and  there's  scrubbing  up,  yet  it  is  not  done  with  quite  the  self- 
consciousness.  It's  done  for  God,  whom  no  one  sees,  and  it's  some- 
what different.  This  notion  of  what  is  to  be  seen  and  what  is  not  to  be 
seen  about  the  self  has  a  cultural  dimension  to  it. 

Some  of  the  children  I  have  come  to  know,  like  those  in  New  Mex- 
ico and  Alaska,  and  especially  the  rural  children  in  Appalachia,  have 
shown  me  what  they  see.  Now  they  haven't  been  trained  to  see  any- 
thing. They  haven't  taken  any  course  in  "visual  this"  or  "art  that"  or 
photography.  The  natural  landscape  is  part  of  their  education.  It 
doesn't  get  them  any  place  when  someone  comes  in  and  gives  them 
a  test.  They  are  still  called  culturally  disadvantaged  by  all  these  cul- 
turally disadvantaged  people  who  come  out  of  the  Northeast  and 
study  them,  who  see  very  little.  Actually,  a  lot  of  these  characters 
have  restricted  vision,  but  they  don't  know  it.  I  speak  personally  on 
that,  not  to  criticize  others.  I  have  been  astonished  by  how  much  more 
I  see  now  than  I  did  ten  years  ago.  Not  because  I'm  any  smarter  or 
better  trained,  but  I  have  spent  enough  time  with  these  children  for 
them  to  have  shown  me  what  to  look  for  in  what  they  see. 

Children  growing  up  in  some  parts  of  this  country  may  have  a 
"self-image"  as  an  anthropologist  sees  it,  and  that  isn't  the  visual 
thing  that  we  are  connected  with.  It  is  interesting  to  see  upper  middle 
class  and  suburban  children  draw  pictures  of  themselves  in  contrast 
with  children  from  New  Mexico,  Alaska  and  Alabama.  Children  of 
the  middle  class  have  a  notion  of  what  they  should  be  producing  with 
the  crayon  or  with  paint  and  this  notion  is  tied  to  what  they  have  seen 
of  themselves  and  have  been  taught  to  see  of  themselves  as  they've 
been  growing  up.  It  affects  both  what  the  child  draws  and  the  self- 
consciousness  of  the  child  if  the  child  knows,  if  the  child  thinks  to 
himself,  "I  look  this  way,  or  ought  to  look  this  way.  Consequently, 
when  I'm  going  to  draw  a  picture  of  myself  since  this  pain-in-the- 
neck  character  is  asking  me  to  do  these  things,  then  I've  got  to  do  it 
this  way  to  evoke  this  reality  which  is  part  of  my  subjectivity."  But 
imagine  children  who  don't  look  at  and  who  aren't  taught  to  look  at 
themselves.  In  New  Mexico  or  Alaska,  if  you  ask  children  to  draw  a 
picture  of  themselves,  they  draw  a  picture  of  a  mesa,  or  a  canyon,  or 
a  tree,  or  the  sky,  and  then  you  keep  on  waiting:  "Where  is  you'? 
Draw  a  picture  of  yourself."  And  finally  you  get  a  little  thing,  a  smear, 
and  think,  "Oh  my  God,  is  this  a  self-image?  Is  it  reproducible  in  a 
book?  What  are  they  going  to  say  in  Atlantic-Little,  Brown?"  Particu- 
larly in  the  case  of  Alaska,  where  the  drawings  are  all  white  and 
where  the  only  thing  the  children  are  interested  in  is  a  little  chalk, 
which  I  finally  came  up  with  in  a  moment  of  revelation,  or  white 
crayon,  which  has  never  been  used  before  and  can  finally  be  used 
now.  White  crayon  never  even  used  by  white  people,  but  now  used 
by  Eskimo  people,  of  course,  because  if  you  insist  on  bugging  them 
with  these  drawings,  they'll  try  and  draw  you  something  about  the 
world.  And  if  you  want  them  in  it  you  might  get  a  line  here  or  even  a 
circle  in  white,  a  face.  If  you  want  to  get  academic  and  also  romantic 
about  it  and  make  comparisons,  many  of  the  children  of  New  Mexico 
and  Alaska  actually  draw  and  paint  as  if  they  were  Chinese  or  Jap- 


144  Robert  Coles 


anese  artists  with  a  notion  of  nature  that  is  much  more  important 
than  any  notion  they  have  of  themselves.  Now,  does  that  mean  that 
they  don't  have  any  sense  of  themselves?  Does  that  mean  that  there's 
something  deficient?  Or  does  it  mean  that  they  simply  are  neither 
really  interested  in,  nor  have  been  brought  up  to  evoke  themselves 
in,  a  visual  way?  Their  use  of  their  eyes  has  to  do  with  the  landscape 
and  has  to  do  with  the  outside  world;  it's  not  an  inner  thing.  Conse- 
quently, they  are  having  an  extraordinary  experience  with  this 
young  photographer,  Alex  Harris,  who's  handing  out  these  prints 
out  there  in  these  obscure  villages.  And  they're  looking  at  these  per- 
haps the  way  we  first  looked  at  a  television  or  a  movie  screen.  Eskimo 
children  certainly  know  about  the  movies.  The  movies  and  what  tele- 
vision there  is  (which  is  not  in  the  villages,  but  certainly  is  in  the 
cities) ,  is  for  them  part  of  the  language.  But  it's  outside  themselves 
to  have  this  immediate  experience  with  one's  self  through  a  photo- 
graph or  with  one's  family  through  a  photograph.  It's  a  relatively 
rare  thing.  In  some  homes  the  men  who  went  into  the  Army  brought 
back  from  military  service  little  twenty-five  cent  pictures  which  were 
regarded  by  some  Eskimo  families  as  we  would  regard  the  acquisi- 
tion of  a  signed  Picasso  print:  a  very  special  thing  to  put  in  a  special 
place  in  the  house. 

I  found  those  pictures  Doris  Ulmann  took  in  the  South  helpful  to  look 
at  when  I  was  writing  about  some  of  the  children  I  got  to  know.  Some- 
how a  little  picture  was  what  you  call  a  "methodological  aid"  (all 
those  words  that  the  social  scientists  use  to  obscure  everything!) .  So 
I  have  been  interested  to  hear  lately  that  Doris  Ulmann  is  called  a 
pictorialist.  Beware  of  all  these  people  that  have  names!  Someone 
wrote  about  her  and  talked  about  her  romanticization.  I  thought  it 
was  an  outrage  because,  you  see,  this  is  another  problem.  She,  after 
all,  went  and  took  great  pains  at  a  particular  moment  when  it  wasn't 
as  fashionable  as  it  is  now,  went  down  to  South  Carolina  and  Appa- 
lachia  and  took  these  strange,  haunting  pictures.  Now  someone 
says  she  "romanticizes."  Well,  against  what  criteria?  Has  this  person 
ever  been  in  this  area?  Does  he  know  what  these  people  look  like? 
How  can  a  man  writing  in  New  York  say,  "pictorialism,  romanticiza- 
tion," while  someone  else  looks  at  it  and  says,  "This  is  exactly  what 
this  is  like;  this  isn't  romantic  at  all,  and  there's  nothing  "pictorial" 
about  it.  It's  factual,  not  pictorial."? 

You  know,  I  don't  mean  to  be  harsh  against  necessary  words  like 
"pictorialism,"  although  it  does  bother  me  when  I  hear  "romanticiza- 
tion," because  that  means  there's  a  distortion  of  reality  or  a  denial 
of  an  aspect  of  human  existence.  Well,  maybe  we  have  our  own  preju- 
dices that  are  not  only  cultural,  but  have  a  visual  quality  to  them.  We 
have  a  notion  in  our  minds  of  what  a  rural,  Southern,  black,  share- 
cropper tenant  farmer  looks  like.  The  sources  of  our  visual  prejudices 
would  be  interesting  to  document. 

I  remember  once  going  into  a  migrant  farmer's  shack  in  Florida, 
in  a  town  called  Belle  Glade.  Now  there  are  about  100,000  migrants  in 
this  area.  Belle  Glade  somehow  intrigued  me,  so  I  wandered  around 
there  for  a  great  number  of  days,  and  eventually  weeks.  And  I  came 
to  a  cabin,  where  it  seemed  the  people  were  the  most  down  and  out. 
I  just  thought,  "This  is  the  end  of  the  world,  this  cabin.  It's  the  end  of 
America,  it's  the  end  of  everything. "  And  no  matter  how  brutal  a 
photographer  could  be,  I  would  always  say  reality  is  more  brutal. 


145  Robert  Coles 


Doris  Ulmann,  Cleaver  Headers  and 
Two  of  His  Children,  near  Cleveland, 
Georgia. 


Doris  Ulmann,  Ella  Webster,  Texana, 
near  Murphy,  North  Carolina,  circa 
1933. 


146  Robert  Coles 


And  yet,  knowing  these  people,  one  afternoon  I  came  in  and  the 
mother  was  standing  there  with  one  hand  on  her  daughter's  back, 
and  with  the  other  hand  she  had  some  water  that  she  had  gone  out- 
side to  get  (they  have  no  running  water) .  She  was  pouring  it  on  a 
plant,  the  one  plant  in  that  house.  She  had  a  plant  in  that  house.  A 
lovely  little  plant  and  she  was  watering  that  plant,  and  suddenly,  I've 
never  seen  anything  like  this  before,  here  was  beauty  that  was  being 
nourished.  Now  I'm  not  just  saying  it  to  make  it  sound  like  a  good  lit- 
tle story.  The  fact  is,  I  hadn't  even  noticed  that  plant,  because  I  didn't 
want  to  see  that.  All  I  was  documenting  was  the  misery  and  degra- . 
dation  of  these  lives.  So  the  point  is  that  I  had  not  seen  something 
that  was  right  before  my  eyes.  Talk  about  distortions!  I  could  have 
told  you  so  many  other  things  about  that  family,  about  the  way  they 
lived,  and  about  the  work  they  had  done.  I  had  actually  gone  out  in 
the  field  and  worked  with  them,  cutting  celery,  breaking  my  blasted 
back,  doing  all  that  kind  of  minute  documentary  reportage,  and  I 
had  missed  that.  Now  there  was  a  softness  to  that  moment  that  came 
across  in  her  body,  and  the  light  was  there,  and  the  plant  was  there 
to  get  the  sun.  It  was  so  different  from  those  same  people  standing  in 
front  of  that  cabin  looking  like  the  end  of  America.  So  it  isn't  just  a 
matter  of  style,  I  think.  It's  a  matter  of  different  moments  in  the  same 
lives  and  whether  the  particular  person,  be  he  a  writer  or  a  photog- 
rapher, wants  to  respond  to  it. 

I  have  the  feeling  that  after  the  photographer  has  come  to  know 
the  people,  the  situation  ultimately  becomes  an  extension  of  what  his 
own  purposes  are.  If  he  wants  to  emphasize  or  has  emphasized  for 
himself  one  part  of  that  tradition,  he  will  find  it  in  reality  and  cap- 
ture it.  If  he's  looking  for  another  side  he  will  find  that  and  capture 
it,  which  is  sort  of  like  what  I  do.  I  mean,  if  I'm  looking  for  trouble 
and  want  to  emphasize  trouble,  then  I'll  find  it.  If  I'm  looking  for 
strengths,  I'll  find  them  too,  although  I  wasn't  prepared  maybe,  by 
my  prejudices  to  find  them.  This  attitude  is  also  interesting  and  re- 
lates to  the  whole  academic  tradition  and  what  it  teaches  us  to  want 
to  see.  Particularly  with  the  social  sciences  and  all  this  talk  about  cul- 
tural disadvantage  and  cultural  deprivation,  we  are  systematically 
educated  to  find  missing  in  people  certain  things,  to  the  point  that  we 
don't  see  them  when  they're  there. 

I  have  an  intense  dislike  for  Diane  Arbus.  I  don't  like  her  photo- 
graphs and  I  don't  like  the  cult  that's  been  made  of  them.  Maybe  it's 
because  I'm  a  psychiatrist,  because  some  part  of  me  feels  that  that's 
wrong,  that  that  isn't  the  whole  of  the  reality.  Or  maybe  it  is  that  I 
don't  want  that  reality  evoked  in  photographs.  But  I  just  know  that 
you  could  go  into  a  mental  hospital  and  you  wouldn't  have  to  come 
out  with  what  Diane  Arbus  sees.  That's,  I  guess,  what  I'm  trying  to 
say.  I  just  know  from  my  own  experience  in  hospitals  that  it  isn't 
only  like  that;  people  are  not  only  like  that.  This  is,  in  a  sense,  a  cari- 
cature of  what  those  people  are  like. 

I'll  tell  you  what  the  difference  is  between  Eugene  Smith  and 
Arbus.  For  instance,  take  the  dwarfs  and  that  striking,  horrible  pho- 
tograph of  the  mother  and  the  child  in  the  bath.  Nothing  could  be 
more  grotesque  or  horrible,  but  Smith  is  not  romanticizing  that,  he 
isn't  making  it  beautiful.  When  I  look  at  his  photographs,  I  feel  the 
horror,  but  also  the  humanity,  to  use  that  cliche,  in  all  its  wickedness 
and  grandeur  (and  I  use  these  words  advisedly)  in  all  people:  rich  or 
poor,  dwarfed,  mercury-poisoned,  elegant,  intellectual,  whatever. 


147  Robert  Coles 


Diane  Arbus,  Christmas  Tree  in  a  Liv- 
ing Room  in  Levittown,  Long  Island, 
1963.  The  Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


Diane  Arbus,  Woman  with  a  Veil 

on  Fifth  Avenue,  New  York  City,  1968. 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art. 


148  Robert  Coles 


Diane  Arbus,  A  Young  Brooklyn  Fam- 
ily Going  for  a  Sunday  Outing,  New 
York  City,  1966. 


And  if  that's  brought  out  of  me,  I  don't  think  I'm  being  used.  It's 
bringing  out  the  part  of  me  that  isn't  the  animal,  that  thinks  and 
worries  and  is  concerned,  even  though  there  is  an  animal-like  side  in 
me  and  in  all  of  us.  But  there  is  a  side  that  goes  beyond  self-centered- 
ness,  that  goes  out  and  reaches  out  to  people,  feels  for  people,  and  is 
the  only  hope  for  the  survival  of  this  world.  And  that's  what  Smith  is 
worried  about,  the  survival  of  this  world  and  its  value.  And  Arbus  is 
saying,  I  guess,  "Look  at  it,  this  is  awful!"  It  is  awful,  but  it  isn't  only 
awful,  and  I  think  Smith  never  lets  you  forget.  And  I  know  "hopeful" 
can  be  banal,  and  "hopeful"  can  be  cheap  optimism  of  the  American 
phony  kind,  but  there's  some  lovely  tender  side  that  he  finds  that  is 
missing  in  Arbus. 

A  couple  of  years  ago,  I  was  asked  by  an  American  magazine  to  do 
a  profile  of  Walker  Evans.  I  could  never  bring  myself  to  do  it.  I  did 
read  Hilton  Kramer  in  the  Sunday  Times1  and  he  said  that  Walker 
Evans  isn't  appreciated  by  a  lot  of  people.  He  said  that  we  see  the  man 
who  went  to  Alabama  and  South  Boston  and  took  photographs,  but 
that  a  lot  of  us  don't  understand  the  aesthetics  and  the  surfaces  of 
the  photographs.  Well,  maybe  we  don't.  I  resent  the  duality  there.  I 
think  he  has  in  those  photographs  all  of  Oscar  Handlin  and  Steven 
Phernstrom,  and  all  of  the  social  psychologists,  who  go  running 
around  doing  studies,  and  all  of  Children  of  Crisis,  and  on  and  on. 
There's  something  in  those  homes  that  he  has  captured.  And  it  isn't 
just  a  matter  of  those  aesthetic  words,  and  those  academic  words.  Of 
course,  there's  technical  expertise,  and  an  interest  in  surfaces  and 

1.  The  New  York  Times,  December  1, 1974. 


149  Robert  Coles 


Walker  Evans,  Sharecropper's  Family, 
Hale  County,  Alabama,  1936. 


arrangements.  But  there  is  also  something  else  that's  connecting  in 
some  way,  even  if  it  wasn't  his  personal  inclination  to  be  emotionally 
connected.  He  connects  a  viewer  with  those  people  in  a  non-exploit- 
ative way.  The  interest  in  and  the  response  to  part  of  the  world  does 
come  across. 

But  I  hope  I'm  not  a  narrow-minded  Marxist  critic  who  feels  that 
the  only  beauty  is  proletarian  beauty.  The  subjects  of  Irving  Penn's 
photographs  are  human  beings  who  are  entitled  to  documentation. 
There's  a  grandeur  there,  but  there  is  also  a  class  issue  of  some  kind. 
A  certain  kind  of  person  with  a  different  view  of  what  the  world  is  like 
might  say  that  they  are  the  ultimate  expression  of  the  bourgeoisie 
and  that  Penn  is  documenting  their  arrogance,  parochialism,  beauty, 
self-importance  and  their  poseur  quality. 

How  can  Penn  talk  about  Eugene  Smith's  work  as  propaganda? 
This  word  "propaganda."  I  mean,  my  God,  here  is  a  man  who  gives 
you  a  few  words  and  he  tells  you  what  he's  trying  to  do,  presumably 
in  the  artistic  tradition.  He's  driven  apparently  to  say  what  he's  inter- 
ested in  doing.  In  that  sense,  I  suppose  all  art  is  propaganda.  But  you 
see  how  these  words  get  thrown  around:  one  man's  propaganda  is 
obviously  another  man's  beautiful  vision.  And  what  can  we  do?  You 
know,  we're  not  in  the  field  of  chemistry  or  physics  so  there's  nothing 
that  can  be  proved  here. 

I  would  like  to  talk  about  The  Old  Ones  in  New  Mexico.2  People 
say,  "Well,  you  know,  the  way  you  write  about  the  way  people  them- 
selves talk  is  not  like  the  pictures."  Why  do  people  have  to  look  the 
way  they  talk?  Maybe  the  way  people  look  is  one  thing  about  them 
and  the  way  they  talk  is  quite  another.  Maybe  in  some  cases,  the  way 
they  look  is  their  moment  of  reserve  and  truth,  and  the  way  they  talk 
is  their  moment  of  fear  and  panic  as  they  come  to  terms  with  you. 
And  maybe  a  writer  will  eventually  say,  "I'm  sick  and  tired  of  even 


2.  Robert  Coles,  The  Old  Ones  in  New  Mexico.  Albuquerque:  University  of  New 
Mexico  Press,  December  1973. 


150  Robert  Coles 


pretending  to  say  that  what  I'm  writing  are  the  tape-recorded  words." 
But  I  am  now  getting  unashamedly  into  what  Flannery  O'Connor 
would  call  'mystery  and  manners.'  Mystery  and  manners  is  a  good 
way  to  describe  a  half-decent  social  science  which  is  yet  to  be  born. 
And  all  I  can  do  with  these  words  I  write  is  to  pray  that  somehow, 
something  coming  out  of  me  will  have  to  do  with  the  people  I  write 
about. 

A  writer's  obligation  at  this  point  is  to  shut  up  with  the  word  "I" 
and  maybe  try  to  devise  a  way  of  describing  what  he  has  heard  and 
seen  in  a  way  that  is  not  the  traditional  first  person  narrative,  not.to 
mention  the  expository  social  science  style.  Now  I  don't  know  how 
you  do  that,  although  I'm  trying  to  find  that  out,  and  I  think  it  comes 
across  in  The  Old  Ones  in  New  Mexico.  First  of  all,  if  you  want  a  sort 
of  analysis  of  the  difference,  one  by  definition  is  compelled  to  have 
many  much  smaller  statements  from  the  people,  because  they  are, 
indeed,  a  relatively  silent  people,  or  a  terse  people,  or  a  laconic  people. 
But  what  about  people  who  are  not  interested  in  talking  under  any 
circumstances?  Not  because  you  are  there,  by  the  way,  and  bothering 
them,  but  because  the  silence  is  part  of  their  being.  Not  total  silence. 
Moments  of  conversation,  moments  of  talk.  But  a  different  pace,  a 


Walker  Evans,  Fireplace,  Tenant  Farm- 
house, Hale  County ,  Alabama,  1936. 


151  Robert  Coles 


different  rhythm,  a  different  something.  So  you  have  to  do  that  in  the 
way  the  words  come  across  on  a  page.  Not  quotes,  but  maybe  you  can 
write  as  if  coming  out  of  them  as  part  of  their  thinking.  If  you  can 
somehow  deliver  on  the  page  that  something  inside  them,  fine. 

For  example,  one  meets  a  woman,  Mrs.  Lopez,  by  name.  She  tells 
you  how  she  bakes.  You  pretend  to  be  interested  in  baking.  You've 
never  been  interested  in  baking  before,  although  your  wife  has  been 
baking  all  these  years  as  has  your  mother  before  her.  Who  wants  to 
be  interested  in  baking?  You  can  buy  a  loaf  of  bread.  Mrs.  Lopez  is  the 
greatest  bread-maker  in  northern  New  Mexico.  Certainly  in  the  town 
of  Touchas.  Okay.  A  phony,  dishonest  ingratiating  effort  to  get  to 
know  this  woman?  Eventually,  in  the  midst  of  baking  bread  one  hears 
a  story  about  her  children.  A  photographer  has  taken  some  pictures 
of  her.  She's  standing  there  and  looks — some  people  think  she  looks 
old  and  tired,  some  people  think  there's  dignity  to  her,  some  people 
think  that  she's  extraordinary.  She  tells  me  a  story  about  two  people, 
her  two  sons,  and  how  she  came  to  know  that  they  had  died,  in  war, 
one  of  them,  and  then  another.  One  hears  that  story  and  can't  forget 
it,  goes  back  to  it,  writes  about  it.  A  photographer  has  spent  time  with 
her  and  has  pictures,  another  Mrs.  Lopez.  And  there  we  are. 

I  don't  think  I  have  in  my  mind  that  words  and  photographs  are 
"the  thing"  itself.  There  is  no  such  thing  as  "the  thing"  itself;  it  is  an 
abstraction  that  you  and  I  use.  I  do  not  speak  of  photography  as  any- 
thing closer  to  some  ultimate  reality  than  some  words.  I  say  that  pho- 
tography is  another  way  of  being. 


152  Robert  Coles 


Suggested  Readings 


John  Morris 

Articles: 

Barrell,  Sarah  Webb.  "The  Picture 
Picker."  Camera  35,  February/ 
March  1975. 

Fondiller,  Harvey  V.  "Magnum: 
Image  and  Reality."  35mm  Photog- 
raphy, Winter  1976. 

Jury,  Mark.  "A  Talk  with  John  Mor- 
ris." New  York  Photographer,  June/ 
July  1972. 

Morris,  John  G.  "Photographers  Ran 
the  War."  Popular  Photography, 
February  1946. 

— .  "People  Are  People  the  World 

Over."  Ladies'  Home  Journal,  April 
1948-March  1949.  (12  articles) 

— .  "Confessions  of  a  Picture  Editor." 
New  York:  Photo  Notes,  Spring 
1950. 

— .  "Let's  Make  Honest  Pictures."  Mod- 
ern Photography,  June  1950. 

— .  "An  Appreciation :  Robert  Capa, 
Werner  Bischof."  New  York : 
Infinity,  May  1954. 

— .  "Magnum  Photos — An  Interna- 
tional Cooperative."  New  York: 
U.S.  Camera  1954. 

— .  "Chim  . . .  was  Chim."  London : 
Photography,  January  1957. 

— .  "The  World  of  David  Seymour." 
New  York:  Infinity,  Winter  1957. 

— .  "Elliott  Erwitt."  Lucerne:  Camera, 
March  1958. 

— .  "Photographers  Don't  Think!" 
Popular  Photography,  December 
1962. 

— .  "The  New  Look  in  Newspapers." 
National  Press  Photographer,  June 
1966. 

— .  "Where  is  the  Money  in  Photog- 
raphy?" Popular  Photography, 
October  1966. 

— .  "The  Art  of  Seeing:  A  Guide  to 
Travel  Photography."  Holiday, 
March  1968. 

— .  "This  We  Remember."  Harper's 
Magazine,  September  1972. 

— .  "How  Not  to  Sell  Your  Pictures." 
Popular  Photography,  January 
1974. 

— ,  and  Mary  Adele  Morris.  "Your 
America."  Ladies'  Home  Journal, 
June  1948. 

"John  Morris'  Changing  Times." 
Editor  &  Publisher,  13  June  1970. 


Paul  Taylor 

Books: 

Conrad,  Maisie  and  Richard.  Executive 
Order  9066:  The  Internment  of 
110,000  Japanese-Americans.  Cam- 
bridge, Massachusetts:  MIT  Press 
for  the  California  Historical  Society, 
1972. 

Lange,  Dorothea.  First  Rural  Re- 
habilitation Colonists,  Northern 
Minnesota  to  Matanuska  Valley, 
Alaska,  Sailed  from  San  Francisco, 
May  1, 1935.  San  Francisco,  1935. 

— .  Dorothea  Lange  Looks  at  the  Ameri- 
can Country  Woman:  A  Photo- 
graphic Essay  by  Dorothea  Lange. 
Fort  Worth :  Amon  Carter  Museum, 
1967.  With  a  commentary  by  Beau- 
mont Newhall. 

— .  The  Making  of  a  Documentary 
Photographer,  mimeographed, 
Berkeley:  University  of  California, 
Bancroft  Library,  Regional  History 
Office,  1968.  An  interview  conducted 
by  Suzanne  Riess. 

— ,  and  Margaretta  Mitchell.  To  a 
Cabin.  New  York :  Grossman  Pub- 
lishers, 1973. 

— ,  and  Paul  Schuster  Taylor.  An 
American  Exodus.-  A  Record  of 
Human  Erosion.  New  York :  Reynal 
and  Hitchcock,  1939. 

— .  An  American  Exodus-.  A  Record  of 
Human  Erosion.  Revised  and  ex- 
tended edition.  New  Haven:  Yale 
University  Press,  1969. 

Museum  of  Modern  Art,  New  York. 
Dorothea  Lange.  New  York:  Double- 
day,  1968.  Introductory  essay  by 
George  P.  Elliott. 

Stryker,  Roy  Emerson,  and  Nancy 
Wood.  In  This  Proud  Land:  America 
1935-1943  As  Seen  in  the  FSA  Photo- 
graphs. Greenwich,  Connecticut: 
New  York  Graphic  Society  Ltd., 
1973. 

Taylor,  Paul  Schuster.  Paul  Schuster 
Taylor,  California  Social  Scientist. 
mimeographed,  Berkeley:  Univer- 
sity of  California,  Bancroft  Library, 
Regional  History  Office,  1973.  An 
interview  conducted  by  Suzanne 
Riess. 


Gjon  Mili 

Books: 

Mili,  Gjon.  The  Magic  of  the  Opera. 
New  York:  F.  H.  Praeger,  Inc.,  1960. 

— .  Picasso's  Third  Dimension.  Friton 
Press,  1970. 

Articles: 

— .  "Gjon  Mili  Photographs  Ballet 
Dancers  at  High  Speed."  Life,  19 
February  1940. 


153  Suggested  Readings 


— .  "World  Charter."  Life,  23  July  1945. 
Day-by-day  coverage  of  the  United 
Nations  at  the  San  Francisco  con- 
ference. 

— .  "The  World  of  Sean  O'Casey."  Life, 
26  July  1954. 

— .  "Queen  of  Cathedrals."  Life,  15  De- 
cember 1961.  An  expressionist  essay 
on  Chartres. 

— .  "The  Relentless  Spectre  of  Brecht." 
Life,  18  September  1964. 

— .  "Mr.  B.  Talks  about  Ballet."  Life, 
11  June  1965. 

.  'Serenade  to  Ninety  Years  of  Great- 
ness." Life,  11  November  1966. 

— .  "An  American  Masterpiece."  Life, 
3  October  1969.  A  translation  into 
photographs  of  Jerome  Robbins' 
ballet,  "Dancers  at  a  Gathering." 

Films: 

— .  Jamming  the  Blues,  1944. 

— .  Raoul  Dufy  Paints,  New  York,  1950 
(lOmin.) 

— .  Casals,  Prades  Festival,  1950 

(15  min.) 
— .  Jean  Babilee,  Dancer,  1951  (4  min.) 
— .  Salvator  Dali,  1951  (6  min.) 

— .  Stomping  for  Mili,  Brubeck  Jazz 
Quartet,  1955  (10  min.) 

— .  Eisenstadt  Photographs  "The  Tall 
Man."  1955  (15  min.) 

— .  "Tempest,"  filmmaking  on  location, 
1958  (15  min.) 

— .  Henri  Cartier-Bresson,  Photogra- 
pher, 1958  (3  min.) 

— .  Hommage  to  Picasso,  1967  (6  min.) 


Robert  Frank 

Books: 

Bischof,  Werner,  Robert  Frank, 
and  Pierre  Verger,  lndiens  pas 
morts.  Text  by  Georges  Arnaud. 
Paris:  Editions  Robert  Delpire,  1956. 
English  edition:  lncas  to  Indians. 

Frank,  Robert.  Les  Americains. 
Edited  by  Robert  Delpire.  Paris, 
1958. 

— .  The  Americans.  American  edition. 
New  York:  Aperture,  Inc.,  Gross- 
man Publishers,  1959, 1969.  With  an 
introduction  by  Jack  Kerouac. 

— .  Pull  My  Daisy.  Text  by  Jack 

Kerouac.  New  York :  Grove  Press, 
Inc.,  1961. 

— .  The  Lines  of  My  Hand.  Los  Angeles : 
Lustrum  Press,  1972.  Japanese 
edition:  Tokyo:  Kazuhiko  Moto- 
mura,  1971. 


Green,  Jonathan,  ed.  The  Snapshot. 
Aperture,  vol.  19,  no.  1.  New  York : 
Aperture,  Inc.,  1974. 

Articles: 

Bennett,  E.  "Black  and  White  are 
the  Colors  of  Robert  Frank."  Aper- 
ture, vol.  9,  no.  1, 1961,  pp.  20-22. 

Deschin,  J.  "Coney  Island."  Camera, 
50,  1971,  pp.  19-25. 

Frank,  Robert.  "The  Congressional." 
Fortune,  November  1955,  pp.  118-122. 
With  text  by  Walker  Evans. 

— .  "Photographs."  Aperture,  vol.  9, 
no.  1, 1961,  pp.  4-19. 

— .  "Bus  Ride  Through  New  York:  the 
Bridge  from  Photography  to  Cine- 
matography." Camera,  45, 1966, 
pp.  32-35. 

— .  "Films:  Entertainment  Shacked  up 
with  Art."  Arts  41, 1967,  p.  23. 

— .  "Photographs  of  Women."  Camera, 
51,  1972,  p.  32. 

Gibson,  Ralph.  "Review of  The  Amer- 
icans." Artforum  8,  1970,  p.  92. 

"John  Simon  Guggenheim  Memorial 
Foundation  Fellows  in  Photography 
1937-1965."  Camera,  45, 1966,  p.  5. 

Still/3.  "Dialogue  between  Robert 
Frank  and  Walker  Evans."  New 
Haven:  Yale  University  Press,  1973. 

Stott,  W.,  "Walker  Evans,  Robert 
Frank  and  the  Landscape  of  Disso- 
ciation." ArtsCanada,  31, 1974,  pp. 
83-89. 

"The  Street."  Camera,  48, 1969,  pp.  6-13. 

Films: 

— .  Pull  My  Daisy,  1959-60. 

— .  The  Sin  of  Jesus,  1961. 

— .  OK  End  Here,  1963. 

— .  Me  and  My  Brother,  1965-68. 

— .  Conversations  in  Vermont,  1969. 

— .  Life  Raft  Earth,  1970. 

— .  About  Me— A  Musical  about  my 
Life  in  New  York,  1971. 


Frederick  Wiseman 

Books: 

— .  "An  Interview  with  Frederick  Wise- 
man." in  Levin,  G  Roy.  Documen- 
tary Explorations:  15  Interviews 
with  Film-Makers.  Garden  City : 
Anchor  Press,  Doubleday  &  Co., 
Inc.,  1971. 

— .  "An  Interview  with  Frederick  Wise- 
man." in  Rosenthal,  Alan.  The  New 
Documentary  in  Action:  A  Case- 
book in  Film  Making.  Berkeley  and 
Los  Angeles :  University  of  Cali- 
fornia Press,  1972. 


Articles: 

Graham,  John.  "  'There  Are  No  Sim- 
ple Solutions' :  Frederick  Wiseman 
on  Viewing  Film."  Film  Journal, 
Spring  1971,  pp.  44-47.  An  interview. 

Handleman,  Janet.  "An  Interview 
with  Frederick  Wiseman."  Film 
Library  Quarterly,  Summer  1970, 
pp.  5-9. 

Mamber,  Stephen,  "The  New  Docu- 
mentaries of  Frederick  Wiseman." 
Cinema,  6,  no.  1,  pp.  33-40. 

Mc Williams,  Donald  E.  "Frederick 
Wiseman."  Film  Quarterly,  Fall 
1970,  pp.  17-26. 

Sullivan,  Patrick  J.  "  'What's  All  the 
Crym'  About?'  The  Films  of  Fred- 
erick Wiseman."  Massachusetts 
Review,  Summer  1972,  pp.  452-468. 

Films: 

— .  Titicut  Follies,  1967. 

— .  High  School,  1968. 

— .  Law  and  Order,  1969. 

— .  Hospital,  1970. 

— .  Basic  Training,  1971. 

— .  Essene,  1972. 

— .  Juvenile  Court.  1973. 

— .  Primate,  1974. 

— .  Welfare.  1975. 

— .  Meat,  1976. 

John  Szarkowski 

Books: 

Friedlander,  Lee  and  John  Szarkow- 
ski. E.  J.  Bellocq:  Storyville  Por- 
traits. New  York:  The  Museum  of 
Modern  Art,  1970. 

Holmes,  Sam  and  John  Szarkowski. 
Photographs  and  Anti-Photographs: 
Elliott  Erwitt.  Greenwich,  Connec- 
ticut: New  York  Graphic  Society, 
1972. 

Szarkowski,  John.  The  Idea  of  Louis 
Sullivan.  Minneapolis:  University 
of  Minnesota  Press,  1956. 

— .  The  Face  of  Minnesota.  Minneap- 
olis :  University  of  Minnesota  Press, 
1958. 

— .  The  Photographer  and  the  Ameri- 
can Landscape.  New  York:  The 
Museum  of  Modern  Art,  1963. 

— .  The  Photographs  of  Jacques  Henri 

Lartigue.  New  York :  The  Museum 

of  Modern  Art,  1963. 
— .  Andre  Kertesz:  Photographer.  New 

York:  The  Museum  of  Modern  Art, 

1964. 
— .  The  Photographer's  Eye.  New  York: 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  1966. 

— .  Walker  Evans.  New  York :  The 
Museum  of  Modern  Art,  1971. 


154  Suggested  Readings 


— .  From  the  Picture  Press.  New  York : 
The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  1973. 

— .  Looking  at  Photographs:  100  Pic- 
tures from  the  Collection  of  The 
Museum  of  Modern  Art.  New  York : 
The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  1973. 

— .  "Atget's  Trees."  in  One  Hundred 
Years  of  Photographic  History: 
Essays  in  Honor  of  Beaumont  New- 
hall.  Edited  by  Van  Deren  Coke. 
Albuquerque:  University  of  New 
Mexico  Press,  1975. 

— ,  and  Shoji  Yamagishi,  eds.  New  Jap- 
anese Photography.  New  York:  The 
Museum  of  Modern  Art,  1974. 

Winogrand,  Garry.  The  Animals. 
Afterward  by  John  Szarkowski. 
New  York :  The  Museum  of  Modern 
Art,  1969. 

Articles: 

Szarkowski,  John.  "Photographing 
Architecture."  Art  in  America,  no. 
2,  1959,  pp.  84-90. 

— .  "Photography  and  the  Mass  Media." 
Aperture  13,  1967,  pp.  182-184. 

— .  "A  Different  Kind  of  Art."  New 

York  Times  Magazine,  13  April  1975. 


Eugene  Smith 

Books: 

Hicks,  Wilson.  Words  and  Pictures. 
Arno  Press,  1973. 

Smith,  W.  Eugene,  and  Aileen  M. 
Minamata.  New  York:  Holt,  Rine- 
hart  and  Winston,  1975. 

W.  Eugene  Smith.-  Photographs  and 
Notes.  An  Aperture  Monograph. 
New  York:  Aperture,  Inc.,  1969. 

Articles: 

Smith,  W.  Eugene.  "Country  Doctor." 
Life.  20  September  1948.  pp.  115-126. 

— .  "Spanish  Village."  Life,  9  April  1951, 
pp.  120-129. 

— .  "Nurse  Midwife."  Life,  3  December 
1951,  pp.  134-145. 

— .  "A  Man  of  Mercy."  Life,  15  Novem- 
ber 1954,  pp.  161-172. 

Susan  Sontag 

Books: 

Sontag,  Susan.  Against  Interpreta- 
tion. New  York:  Delta  Books,  Dell 
Publishing  Company,  1966. 

— .  Death  Kit.  New  York:  Farrar,  Straus 
and  Giroux,  1967. 

— .  Styles  of  Radical  Will.  New  York: 
Farrar,  Straus  and  Giroux,  1969. 

— .  Duet  for  Cannibals.  New  York : 
Viking  Press,  1970. 

— .  Brother  Carl.  New  York:  Farrar, 
Straus  and  Giroux,  1974. 


— .  On  Photography.  New  York:  Farrar, 
Straus  and  Giroux,  forthcoming. 

Articles: 

— .  "On  Photography."  New  York  Re- 
view of  Books,  18  October  1973,  p.  59. 

— .  "Freak  Show."  New  York  Review  of 
Books,  15  November  1973.  p.  13. 

— .  "Shooting  America."  New  York  Re- 
view of  Books,  18  April  1974,  p.  17. 

— .  "Photography:  the  Beauty  Treat- 
ment." New  York  Review  of  Books, 
28  November  1974,  p.  35. 

— .  "Fascinating  Fascism."  New  York 
Review  of  Books,  6  February  1975, 
p.  23. 

— .  "Photography  in  Search  of  Itself." 
New  York  Review  of  Books,  20  Jan- 
uary 1977,  p.  53. 

Films: 

— .  Duett  for  kannibaler  (Duet  for 
Cannibals,  1969). 

— .  Brother  Carl,  1971. 

— .  Promised  Lands,  1974. 

Irving  Penn 

Books: 

Penn,  Irving.  Moments  Preserved. 
New  York :  Simon  and  Schuster, 
1960. 

— .  Worlds  in  a  Small  Room.  New  York: 
Grossman  Publishers,  1974. 

Photographs: 

Vogue  magazine,  1943  to  the  present. 

Robert  Coles 

Books: 

Coles,  Robert.  The  Desegration  of 
Southern  Schools.  New  York :  New 
York  Anti-Defamation  League  of 
B'nai  Brith,  1963. 

— .  Children  of  Crisis:  A  Study  of  Cour- 
age and  Fear.  Boston:  Atlantic- 
Little,  Brown  and  Company,  May 
1967. 

— .  Dead  End  School.  Boston:  Atlantic- 
Little,  Brown,  April  1968. 

— .  The  Grass  Pipe.  Boston :  Atlantic- 
Little,  Brown,  April,  1969. 

— .  Still  Hungry  in  America.  Photo- 
graphs by  Al  Clayton.  World  Pub- 
lishing— New  American  Library, 
April  1969. 

— .  The  Image  is  You.  Edited  by  Donald 
Erceg.  Boston:  Houghton-Mifflin, 
September  1969. 

— .  Wages  of  Neglect.  Chicago :  Quad- 
rangle Press,  October  1969. 

— .  Uprooted  Children:  The  Early  Lives 
of  Migrant  Farmers.  Pittsburgh: 
University  of  Pittsburgh  Press, 
February  1970. 


— .  The  Middle  Americans.  Photo- 
graphs by  Jon  Erikson.  Boston: 
Atlantic-Little,  Brown,  June  1970. 

— .  Teachers  and  the  Children  of  Pov- 
erty. Washington:  The  Potomac  In- 
stitute, June  1970. 

— .  Drugs  and  Youth:  Medical,  Psy- 
chiatric and  Legal  Facts.  Liveright 
Publishing,  June  1970. 

— .  Erik  H.  Erikson:  The  Growth  of  His 
Work.  Boston:  Atlantic-Little, 
Brown,  November  1970. 

— .  The  Geography  of  Faith:  Conver- 
sations between  Daniel  Berrigan. 
when  Underground,  and  Robert 
Coles.  Boston:  Beacon  Press, 
October  1971. 

— .  Migrants,  Sharecroppers  and 
Mountaineers.  Volume  II  of  Chil- 
dren of  Crisis.  Boston:  Atlantic- 
Little,  Brown,  January  1972. 

— .  The  South  Goes  North.  Volume  III 
of  Children  of  Crisis.  Boston:  Atlan- 
tic-Little, Brown,  January  1972. 

— .  Saving  Face.  Boston:  Atlantic-Little, 
Brown,  March  1972. 

— .  Farewell  to  the  South.  Boston : 
Atlantic-Little,  Brown,  July  1972. 

— .  A  Spectacle  Unto  the  World  Cath- 
olic Worker  Movement.  New  York: 
Viking  Press,  June  1973. 

— .  Riding  Free.  Boston:  Atlantic-Little, 
Brown,  September  1973. 

— .  The  Old  Ones  of  New  Mexico. 
Albuquerque :  University  of  New 
Mexico  Press,  December  1973. 

— .  The  Darkness  and  the  Light.  Photo- 
graphs by  Doris  Ulmann.New  York: 
Aperture,  Inc.,  July  1974. 

— .  The  Buses  Roll.  New  York :  W.  W. 
Norton  and  Company,  October 
1974. 

— .  Irony  in  the  Mind's  Life:  Essays  on 
Novels  by  James  Agee,  Elizabeth 
Bowen,  and  George  Eliot.  Char- 
lottesville :  University  of  Virginia 
Press,  1974. 

— .  Headsparks.  Boston:  Atlantic-Little, 
Brown,  April  1975. 

— .  William  Carlos  Williams:  The 

Knack  of  Survival  in  America.  New 
Brunswick,  N.J.:  Rutgers  University 
Press,  July  1975. 

— .  The  Mind's  Fate.  Boston :  Atlantic- 
Little,  Brown,  August  1975. 

O'Connor,  Flannery.  Mystery  and 
Manners.  New  York:  Farrar,  Straus 
and  Giroux,  1957. 

Articles: 

Coles,  Robert.  "Looking  and  Listen- 
ing." Aperture,  Vol.  19,  no.  4, 1975. 


155  Suggested  Readings 


Photo  Credits 


Arnold  Crane,  pp.  5,  7  (collection  E.P. 
Janis). 

Donald  Dietz,  pp.  96, 122  bottom. 

Larry  Edwards,  pp.  12, 26,  52, 66. 

Stephen  Frank,  pp.  110, 122  top,  138. 

Lyndon  Baines  Johnson  Library,  Aus- 
tin, Texas,  p.  23,  Okamoto. 

Library  of  Congress,  Farm  Security  Ad- 
ministration files,  pp.  143  bottom,  150. 

Magnum  Photos,  Inc.,  New  York,  p.  22. 

Linda  Mahoney,  p.  78  top. 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  Depart- 
ment of  Public  Information,  pp.  82,  83. 

New  York  Times,  p.  23,  Lien. 

The  Oakland  Museum,  Art  Depart- 
ment, Oakland,  California,  pp.  27,  28,  31 
bottom,  32,  36,  37,  40  top  left. 

Time-Life  Picture  Agency,  ©  Time,  Inc., 
pp.  19,  20. 

Compix  UPI  News  Pictures,  p.  115 
bottom. 

Wide  World  Photos,  Inc.,  p.  15,  Fass, 
Adams,  Browne,  Ut;  p.  23,  Atkins. 


157  Photo  Credits 


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